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Did I Miss Anything?

July 18, 2012 2 comments

OK, well, been a while, sorry about that.  I got a little sidetracked.  Actually, I am a little sidetracked, but I have a few minutes, so here’s a quick update on three things that have gone on since January.

1) Program Changes

This past spring, during the first week of the semester, I found myself dissatisfied with my choice of program again.  This was not quite the same as my disenchantment with electrical engineering at the end of Fall ‘10 – it had more to do with the fact that one of the courses I was enrolled in seemed not to know quite what it wanted to be, in a way that made me wonder whether the MET program was really the thing.  (That, and I’ve been told by professors in other fields that graduates of the School of Engineering Technology aren’t eligible for licensure as professional engineers in states other than Maine, which is cause for concern if, like me, you’ve been tired of living here since about 1989.)

I considered switching to straight mechanical engineering, but eventually decided against it because there’s very little portability between the two programs.  I’d essentially have been starting over, and there’s always the enhanced math requirements of the MEE program to consider.  Then I got to thinking about something Professor Miller had said to me in an email back in the fall semester – to the effect that he thought I had a real flair for history and had I considered majoring in it?  In fact, I was a history major the first time I was at UMaine, in 1993-94… but the engineering and engineering tech programs have by far the best (and by “best” I really mean “least dismal” in this day and age) post-graduation employment potential.

I had just about convinced myself that that wasn’t important – that what I really needed to do was Follow My Heart regardless of future considerations and “go home” to the history department – by the time I arrived at that department’s office and asked the lady there for the form I would need to get it done…

… and then she asked me, “Do you intend to drop your engineering major?”

And I thought, Well, obviously – I’ve no intention of carrying two majors…

And what I said out loud was, “Oh no, certainly not.”

I mulled that snap decision over for the rest of that week, and what I eventually concluded was that I’d had an idea that hadn’t made its way to my conscious mind yet.  Either that or I’m really good at rationalizing.  Either way, what I’m thinking now is this: I’ll do both majors – in fact, I need to file another paper to split my program into two completely separate degrees – and then use the technical background my MET degree provides to develop a place for myself as a technology historian.  I’ve been told repeatedly (by people within as well as outside the program) that SET grads can basically forget about graduate school in engineering, so, fine – I’ll do it in history.

Mind you, there is not exactly a booming job market for historians with a specific focus on science, technology, and engineering, but there must be some way in.  I mean, I once saw a television documentary which featured a man whose job title was “forensic paleoclimatologist”.  If there’s a corner of the academic world for someone with a specialization like that, surely there’s one for what I’m thinking of doing.  And if not, well, I’ll still be able to work as a mechanical engineer.  In Maine.

It’s not the tastiest fallback position, but at least it is one.

2) The Spring Semester

With a plan thus in place, I went ahead and firmed up my course selections for the semester.  This was largely a continuation of Fall ‘11, with Introductory German 2 at UMaine and Physics 2 at EMCC following on their predecessors from the fall; same instructors, too, and in the case of Physics, the same days and times of day.  I also had the first of the MET program’s mechanics courses, Statics, which met at 8 AM on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday – not my favorite, but the class itself turned out to be great.

I stumbled a little early on with Statics, mainly because of the time of day, and partly because (as a corollary) I hadn’t quite divined Professor Dvorak’s attitude toward examinations when the time came for the first one.  He announced it in class a week before it was to be held and pointed out, sort of by the way, that since the UMaine academic day starts at 8, there was no class scheduled in the room before ours.  “I’m going to be here at seven,” he said, “but you don’t have to come in until the regular time.”

So I did go in at the regular time, and had about 70% of the exam finished when the class period ended and we all had to GTFO to make room for the guys who needed the room for 9 o’clock.  I turned out that I had that 70% done right, so if I’d had time to finish I’d have aced the test.  Well, lesson learned; I showed up no later than 7:15 for the others (apart from the one I missed for medical reasons and had to make up on an afternoon in the last week of the semester), finished them all in plenty of time, and walked away with an A in the class.

Physics similarly went well, because by then I did have a clear read on Mr. Marquis and his preferences for the way the class ran.  It was basically just like the course I’d taken in the fall hadn’t finished yet – more of the same, just with different faces in the lab section.  Physics 2 is largely focused on electromagnetism, acoustics, and optics, all of which is good times to me.  No worries there, apart from the week when I inexplicably lost my lab report somewhere between home and class.  It turned out not to hurt me in the end, because my other labs were good enough that the lowest-grade-dropped being a zero didn’t leave me with a bleeding wound elsewhere on the score sheet.  A there as well.

I struggled a little in German, or at least felt like I did.  It was a strange experience.  For no really evident reason I found myself walking out of every test (and there’s one every couple of weeks in Intro German, rather than the more usual university-level three or four a semester) thinking Well, that was a disaster, only to discover when they came back on Monday that I’d done fine, or fallen down on one section and saved myself with the extra credit at the end, or some similar oddity.  The resulting A- is one of those “game was not as close as the score implies” things.  Annoyingly, I can’t take Intermediate German this fall because it’s only offered at the same time as an MET course I critically need.

Of course, now all of that is up in the air because

3) Impending Medical Adventures

I’ve gone into greater detail about this elsewhere, but most of the details aren’t really germane to Extra Sheets, so here’s the really short version: I have to have major surgery in a couple of weeks.  This was originally supposed to happen much earlier in the month, when it would just have been possible that I’d have been recovered by the start of the fall semester.  That’s entirely out of the question now.

I’m exploring my options with the help of the student disability services office, the SET program office, and others at the University.  I may be able to cut my course load back to a part-time schedule and just take the two MET courses I have to have to stay on track with the program.  It’s a small program, a lot of the courses are specific prereqs for others, and many are only offered in one semester or the other, so if I miss this fall’s pieces that basically sets me back a full year.  Would really like to avoid that if I can help it, although at this point I’m not sure I can.  We’ll see.

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Semester 2: Non-Electric Boogaloo

January 9, 2011 2 comments

My new groove as a mechanical engineering technology major begins tomorrow, and I think I can say without fear of contradiction that I’m not ready to go back to school.

Oh, I’ve got my books – well, most of them, anyway.  My schedule is straightforward enough, even if it does involve rather more being out in the wilderness after dark than I would really prefer.  I have plenty of lovely woolly socks from Christmas, four new blank single-subject notebooks for my LiveScribe smartpen, a 2011 organizer, fresh ink cartridges, all that jazz.

What I don’t have is much sense of having rested over my vacation, primarily because for the last week or so of it, I haven’t.  I’ve had a cold, or the flu, or pneumonic plague, or some damn thing.  I came down with it while I was visiting my grandparents just after New Year’s and it’s dogged me all week.  In fact, classes start in 11 hours (well, mine don’t, I wasn’t daft enough to schedule an 8 o’clocker, but) and I still have it.  I think it’s starting to taper off a bit, but I’ve thought that before over the course of this week and then been cruelly disabused of the notion a few hours later, when my sinuses slam shut like a book again and I’m up out of bed and pacing the floor (I can’t sleep if I can’t breathe through my nose).

This has been going on since last Monday, and it isn’t conducive to that tanned, rested and ready feeling that’s so essential for going back to school with a smile, or at least without a foot-dragging spectre of dread.

Also, I’m entangled in the usual bureaucratic hassles.  I tried to switch from the somewhat-more-basic math course the department automatically signed me up for this semester back to the main calculus sequence, thinking it would provide more flexibility later on, but the Calculus I section that meets at the same time is full.  The system automatically waitlisted me, but it informed me as it did so that I’m #11 with a bullet, which is not too encouraging – and I’m not sure if it automatically removed me from the other math course at the same time.  If it did, well, that’s not good – I need to be taking something.  So I guess I’ll have to pop into the department office in the morning and see if we can sort that out.  And ask someone if what I heard last month about licensure in other states is true.

Also, I got an email yesterday morning from the instructor of the machine tool lab class I’m taking with a reading assignment for the first class in it (which is tomorrow).  Uh?  Call me a tad bit petulant, but I’m not down with the semester starting before the bit on the calendar that says "semester starts".  Elsewhere in the course materials for that class there’s an offhanded note to bring your steel-toed shoes and safety glasses to the first lab (which is also tomorrow in my case).  If I can work out a diplomatic way to do it, I might point out that they should probably make a note of those things being required in the course’s catalog description, so people know about it before the day before class.  As it happens, I’m not going to be able to comply with that one, as my boot shop isn’t open on Mondays.  So that should be interesting.

Also in tomorrow’s campus chase, I may try once again to get hold of the physics department office and inquire as to how in the name of Zarquon the Redeemer I managed to get a D in AST 110.  I realize I had my disagreements with WebCT (mentioned previously), but was my observation project really that bad?  I thought that half of the class went quite well.

Oh, yeah, I’ve been meaning to post about that for a while, I don’t think I ever actually shared my grades from last semester.  Apart from AST 110, which was rather worse than I was expecting, the others were all either as expected or pleasant surprises, thus:

  • AST 110 (Intro to Astronomy – Lab): D (?)
  • MAT 122 (Pre-Calculus): A (!)
  • ECE 100 (Intro to Electrical Engineering Seminar): P
  • ECE 101 (Intro to Electrical Engineering w/Lab): A-
  • CMJ 103 (Fundamentals of Public Communication): A

Even with the D in AST 110, that gives me a semester GPA of 3.6mumble (it was only a 1-credit course).  Annoyingly, because of the F I pulled in COS 220 (Intro C Programming) in 1993, my overall cumulative GPA is now 3.22, which is .08 below the threshold for the dean’s list.  But hey.That A in MAT 122 is the main reason why I tried to swap out TME 152 (Technical Mathematics II, half of which would just be a recap of MAT 122 anyway) for MAT 126 (Calculus I) – if I managed to stay ahead of the curve in that class, maybe proceeding into the main calculus cycle isn’t as crazy as it seemed like it was going to be back in November.

My performance in MAT 122 and ECE 101 also brings to light an interesting phenomenon, that being: I apparently have no idea when I’m doing well in a class.  I spent most of the semester thinking that both of those courses were veering between mediocrity and certain doom, only to discover when the smoke cleared that I’d aced one (there must have been a grading curve involved – how else could I possibly have gotten an A in a class where one of my three exam scores was a 76?) and nearly so the other.  I’m not sure if that’s reassuring or makes me nervous, knowing that however I feel like I’m doing, I probably have no real idea.

This semester’s schedule has appeared here already, so I won’t bother with that again, but just to recap, the courses on tap for this time around are (as of the beginning of Add/Drop Week):

  • COS 120 (Introduction to Programming I) – yes, it’s another godforsaken computer programming class.  No matter where you go nowadays, there it is.  This one’s in Visual Basic, of all things.  Also, for no reason I can discern, it meets once a week for two hours starting at 5 PM.  Has the prof got a day job?
  • MET 107 (Machine Tool Laboratory I) – making things out of metal!  Involves more enforced teamwork, oh joy, but at least the teams are preselected, so we won’t have the awkward-milling-around phase on day 1.
  • MET 121 (Technical Drawing) – once again, this is a field that has been consumed by the all-devouring maw of the Computer.  There is unlikely to be any actual drafting with nifty tools and a nice slanty table here; my guess it it’s all CAD stuff, just as they no longer teach you how to work a slide rule in Calculus.  Involves three textbooks, one of which has the slightly dubious title Modern Graphics Communications, and a piece of software called Solid Edge, which sounds like an off-brand fighting game.
  • TME 152 (Technical Mathematics II) or MAT 126 (Calculus I) – we’ve covered this.
  • And possibly MUY 101 (Fundamentals of Music), an introductory music theory course, which satisfies one of the general education requirements and looks like it might be interesting.  Unfortunately, I ended up in the online section, and after my experience with AST 110 I’m not sure I’m eager to repeat that.  It’ll probably get dropped if I do make the switch to MAT 126, because that’s worth one more credit and requires more in-class time than TME 152.

I have to say, this all looked much more stimulating when I was signing up for it.  On the other hand, I’d had a lot more sleep over the previous seven days then.  Hopefully once things get rolling again, a rhythm will develop, as it did last semester, and everything will be fine.  Although I’m still concerned about the winter commute.  I’ve gotten rather deliciously used to not driving 140 miles a day.

So Much To Do

November 15, 2010 4 comments

Hi!  Um.  There’s been a lot going on the last little while.  Where to start?

First, I suppose, with a Most Recent Progress report.  I mentioned an upcoming math exam and my third CMJ 103 speech in the last couple of posts, so let’s go over those first.

The speech received almost full marks; I got dinged slightly for going over time and for completely omitting visual aids, having somehow failed to notice that the assignment called for at least one.  That won’t be a problem in speech #4, as I’ve already got a plan for at least six.

In mathland, things went… not quite so well, but at least better than I thought they’d gone when I left the exam.  Seventy-three percent is not a spectacular grade, but it is a passing one, and my quiz and homework averages remain strong.  Couple that with my 83% on the first exam and I can still manage a respectable showing in MAT 122 with a decent performance on the final.  (In fact, if the calculations I just did using a spreadsheet the instructor provided are correct, I’m currently averaging about 84 for the course as a whole, which I will certainly take.)

I’m essentially finished with AST 110, having completed all but a handful of questions in the online assessments in a fit of completionism over the weekend.  The ones I’m missing are predicated on owning a copy of the AST 109 textbook, which is a bit of a problem, since I took that class in 1993.  I don’t still have my copy of the textbook handy, and even if I did it would be the wrong book.  I’m not sure what I’m going to do about that.  Obviously buying a copy of the textbook for a class that I’m not taking in order to answer a handful of questions in a single quiz on an online course is absurd.  They might have a copy handy in the university library; I meant to check on that today, but forgot.  Thanks to the weather, we haven’t had an observing session on Monday in at least a month; we still need at least one more to reach the target number of observed objects, but if the weather doesn’t cooperate before the end of the semester, which is really not that far away now, the targets will be adjusted accordingly so we don’t all get screwed by Forces Beyond Our Control.  Which is nice of them.

ECE 101 proceeds.  Let’s Call Him Matt and I are still wire-wrapping on our robot in lab where the rest of our lab group has moved on to messing around with the motors, and the lecture portion of the course has moved into the rudimentary C programming necessary to make the robot work, which fills me with loathing and dismay.  I knew I hated C, but I had forgotten just how much.

Which brings me neatly around to the fact that I’ve changed major.  After meeting with a number of persons in different departments last week, discussing things with my father, and doing a fair bit of soul-searching, I filed the paperwork last Friday to change from EE (in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering) to Mechanical Engineering Technology (in the School of Engineering Technology), with the possibility, once I meet with my new ET advisor, of doubling up with Electrical Engineering Technology down the line.

I did this for a number of reasons which don’t easily bear articulating, as I discovered while fumbling witlessly through an exit interview with the chair of the ECE department this afternoon.  Part of it does have to do with my hatred of C in particular and computer programming in general, although, as Prof. Musavi pointed out during our talk, everyone is doing everything with computers nowadays and you can’t study any technical field without having to do some.  Even in MET, to my utter facepalming dismay, there is a computer programming class required next semester, though I believe the one MET students have to take is in Visual BASIC, not C or – believe it or not, the straight Mechanical Engineering students still have to take this – FORTRAN.  Part of it is because I think working with machine tools and making metal things might be more interesting and less vague than what I’m seeing in the intro electrical material.  And part of it is because power engineering – the thing in engineering that really interests me, if anything in the field can genuinely be said to do so – is sort of a hybrid of mechanical and electrical, and is mostly being pursued on the Engineering Technology side of the fence, leaving the ECE department to work primarily with computers, microelectronics, nanoelectronics, and other things that don’t particularly turn me on.

He didn’t come right out and say it in so many words, but it was fairly apparent that Prof. Musavi thinks I’m basically just bitching out.  Engineering Tech has easier math requirements and is a lot less theoretical than straight-up engineering, at least at UMaine, and it’s evident that most of the engineering faculty view it as a jumped-up vocational-technology program.  Which it is, to be honest; it started as a two-year associate-degree program back in the ’70s and evolved into its current four-year form more or less by default, as the university’s mainstream engineering program became more heavily academic and research-focused.  Both Prof. Musavi and the SET director, Dr. Dunning, have noted to me during this process that if you go for an ET degree, you can basically forget about graduate school.

Which I did consider during my deliberations on the change, but, well… as my father pointed out with all the bluntness that makes him simultaneously such a social trial and a valued source of input, is that even on at my age?  I’d be approaching 50 by the time I burst onto the job search scene as a newly minted PhD.  How ridiculous is that?

What Dr. Dunning didn’t mention while we were meeting – and what Prof. Musavi only mentioned in a casual sort of by-the-way fashion after the paperwork was filed and the die was cast – is that, if you have an ET degree, you can also basically forget about qualifying for a Professional Engineer license in most states.  The State of Maine’s licensure board treats UMaine ET graduates the same as regular engineering grads, but those of most other states view the ET program as… well, as a jumped-up voke-tech program.  People Who Bitched Out of Calculus III Need Not Apply.

I’m not saying it absolutely would have changed my decision if I had known that?  But it would have been nice if someone had mentioned it at any point before that of no return.

Ah, well, hell with it.  I’m laying even odds I piss off back to the liberal arts where I belong at some point in the next calendar year anyway, even though my mother will probably smother me in my sleep if I do.  (It’s refreshingly straightforward, if a bit less than unconditionally supportive, to have one’s parents tell one to stick with a spiritually unrewarding but documentably lucrative field of study because they’re getting old and one will have to pay for their upkeep fairly soon.)

So, uh.  That’s how I spent my last week or so.  There was another thing, too, but that’s its own convoluted and somewhat bitchy story, so it should get its own post with its own tags and whatnot.

Is It That Time Again Already?

November 1, 2010 5 comments

The second MAT 122 exam is coming up on Wednesday evening (why they schedule these things from 6 to 8 PM I really couldn’t tell you).  Oddly, I have so far found the material we’ve covered since the first exam to be easier than what we did in the first section.  OK, yes, I did fall down rather badly on this week’s quiz, but that’s because I got complacent and tried to intuit transformations to the graphs of trigonometric functions on the fly rather than actually working them out.  That works fine with sine and cosine graphs, but not so well for secant/cosecant and really not so much with tangent/cotangent. Result: that’ll be the quiz that gets thrown out at the end of the semester, and a lesson is learned.

Apart from that little difficulty, I’m feeling more sanguine about this exam than the first one.  On the other hand, I managed to pull an 83% on that one despite a feeling of utter impending doom upon leaving the exam room, so what do I know about taking tests?  At any rate, there’s a review session in the morning, and then I must rush home and vote.  This will probably be more futile than the math review session, since – as usual – no one is running who I particularly think should be holding public office in the first place – but it must be done.

Over in ECE 101, things are… odd.  We just finished what Andy insists was the hardest part of the course, which I suppose is the good news (although this week’s homework, which Andy says is easier than last week’s, might as well be in Amharic as far as I’m concerned, so don’t go by me).  The bad news is, that means we’re on the doorstep of the part of the course that’s all C programming.  The last time I tried to program in C, the year started with a 1 and the first President Bush (remember him?) was running for re-election.  And it sucked.  It sucked so much I abandoned computer science rather than ever have to do it again, only to discover, to my considerable dismay, that it’s followed me to electrical engineering (all the CS kiddies program in Java now).  I really don’t want to do that again.

But really, I should feel fortunate, I suppose.  I mean, I only have to come up with enough C to get our maze robot to work, and perhaps my lab partner – who started out as a computer engineering major and has already changed his major to computer science – will do some of that.  It’s next semester that I’ll have to take an entire course in the damn thing, ’cause that’s when ECE 177, Introduction to Programming for Engineers, arrives.  And, as I may have previously mentioned, it doesn’t matter if you’re not a CE major, or want nothing to do with computer programming ever again; in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, we all float down here.

Sigh.

In the short term, though, maybe the programming section will re-engage Let’s Call Him Matt a little.  Since he informed me a couple of lab sessions ago that a) physics sucks b) wire-wrapping sucks and c) Wednesdays suck (and for the record I can’t really argue with any of those), and that as a result he’s changed his major, his participation has been a bit… desultory.  He doesn’t technically need ECE 101 any more; it’s not going to do him a lick of good as regards his eventual degree in computer science.  He’s still trying to finish it, because this late in the semester it’ll still affect his GPA, but other than that it’s not that important.  He’s not explicitly punting, for which I am grateful, but he’s certainly neither bright-eyed nor bushy-tailed.

I sympathize.  His Wednesday schedule is such that by the time he arrives for our three-hour lab at 2 PM, he’s been going since 9 AM, and he still has one more class to go to before he’s done for the day at 8 PM.   Judging by the state of him when he gets to lab, he doesn’t seem to have time for lunch, either, as he’s always starving.  I had a Wednesday that looked like that myself, at the start of the semester, but I dropped the class that would’ve had me in at 9 and out at 8 because, well, I had the leisure to do it.  I’m carrying the bare minimum of credit hours required to maintain full-time student classification, because unlike most of these kids, I’m not really fussed about finishing in four years.  It’s rather liberating.  I can see where it wouldn’t be an option if you’ve got your parents to answer to, though.

Anyway, I wish Let’s Call Him Matt well in his new field, and I hope it’s what he’s looking for and that the reduced science requirement means he no longer has to take any sucky physics courses.  (I’m scheduled for the one that’s kicking his ass this semester, next semester.)  I just hope he doesn’t check out entirely before the semester’s over, ’cause I’m a fairly slow worker and, left to do it all myself, would probably have our robot working in time for graduation.

Speaking of scheduling for next semester, I mentioned last time that I’ve done it on the school’s "wish list" course reg tool (since I can’t actually register until the 10th).  Well, it’s not shot day +1 now, and I can tell you that I still don’t much like what I see there.  Picking up only the three courses required on Semester 2 of the current EE curriculum (for a minimum 12-credit load again), I’m still on campus a lot more than I have to be in this 12-credit semester, for some odd reason.  Worse, I couldn’t arrange for any blank days during the week at all, something I very much wanted in the winter semester, what with every day I’m on campus representing a 120-mile round trip, 4-6 gallons of gas, and all.  But no, it appears there’s no way to take MAT 126 that doesn’t require appearing on campus every single day.  Feh.

(And why does PHY 121, Physics for Engineers I, start at 5 PM?  Has the prof got a day job or something?)

I remain very tempted to change programs myself, though not until semester’s end, but I’m not sure where to go.  EET is a possibility, as is ME, though in both cases there are introductory classes that are only offered in the fall semester, so I’d spend the spring taking electives (which wouldn’t be so bad, actually) and then basically start over again next fall.  And there’s still part of me that would very much like to just get the hell away from anything that requires advanced math, but that part has so far been stayed by the grim realities of the graduate employment picture in the humanities these days.

I know I keep coming back to this subject here, and I apologize for that, but it’s because I keep circling back to it in my mind as I consider my future.  Because it’s a real Scylla/Charybdis sort of situation for me, knowing that I have the ability to pursue a technical career, but doubting whether I have the passion for it.  You know all the hearts-and-flowers talk high school guidance counselors give you about following your heart and money isn’t everything?  If my 19 years stumbling around in the private sector without any real qualifications taught me anything, it’s that, uh, yeah, actually, it kind of is.  And so I eye the exit wistfully but know that, practically speaking, I’m better off doing something that doesn’t really turn me on.

Sometimes You Get the Elevator

October 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Math continues to go well.  ECE 101, on the other hand, continues to be… up and down.

Last week, for instance, I enjoyed doing the homework quite a bit, and felt like I had what we were talking about in lecture pretty well surrounded.  Not to the point of smugness, but there was a certain sense of satisfaction involved.  The doom cloud from a few weeks ago had more or less dispersed.

That lasted until today, when I sat down to get busy on this week’s and discovered that it makes no sense at all.

Now, intellectually, I know why this is happening, and it isn’t because I’ve suddenly forgotten how to evaluate an RC circuit after doing a dozen of them last week.  It’s because I stupidly didn’t do my interferon shot on Friday evening; I put it off until midday Saturday.  That means I spent last night riding the side effects train, and today my brain is just too tired to concentrate.  Normally I get that out of the way on Saturday and then can get useful work done on Sunday, at least in the afternoon.  This weekend, not so much.  I’m not physically weary, but I can’t focus well enough to work on anything as demanding as my ECE homework.

So, lesson learned.  Do shot on Friday or don’t do it at all.  In the meantime, if I put in some diligence tomorrow or Tuesday and go to recitation on Wednesday, all should be well.  I hope.  One of the other side effects of shot day +1 is that I find it hard to be entirely convinced that all will be well – but at least I know that is a side effect, and that it should clear up if I wait it out and get enough sleep tonight.

In other news, the "wish list" functionality of the online course registration tool became available for spring 2011 yesterday.  I won’t actually be able to register for classes until Nov. 10, but I can start browsing and noting things down now – so I did, yesterday morning.  What I learned doesn’t really fill me with joy either, and that’s not the interferon talking.  I’ll be just as displeased with the results tomorrow, because, among other things, I learned that there is no way to take the classes I’m supposed to be taking in that semester and arrange things so that I have even one weekday off.  Which means commuting all five days, every week, in the semester that starts in the dead of winter.  And one of the classes I need is only offered starting at 5 PM, which is well after dark in January – I mean, what?

I considered switching to the less theoretical Electrical Engineering Technology program, which has different math and physics requirements (since the offending courses here are Calculus I and Physics I), only to discover that the introductory courses in that program are only offered in the fall semester – which means essentially just writing this year off and starting over in fall 2011.  It seems to me like that’s not really optimal either.  Mechanical Engineering is similarly fall-biased – and just to add insult to injury, the only fall-2011 EE class that isn’t a problem scheduling-wise is ECE 177, Introduction to Programming for Engineers.  The one I don’t really want any part of in the first place, but which is required for everyone in the program.

I would seriously consider jumping ship back to a non-technical major if there looked like being any future in any of them after college, but right now there simply doesn’t.  While I’ve determined to my satisfaction that I can absorb advanced math and technical subjects, I’m also rapidly approaching certitude that I don’t particularly enjoy them, and that’s making the whole prospect of the next three and a half years – and what comes after them – look really rather dreary.

Then again, on shot day +1, everything looks really rather dreary, so perhaps this is just another aspect of the thing that I need to wait out.

Over in CMJ 103, annoyingly, I drew the shortest possible straw for delivery of persuasive speech #3: I have to go first of everybody, 11 o’clock this very Wednesday, which means the person going last of all has more than a week longer to prepare.  That doesn’t strike me as overwhelmingly fair, but at least the draw was random, so if I’m being picked on, it’s just by fate.

And to end on a positive note, I got my exam in that class back on Friday, the one where I punted on the short answer question.  My instructor’s note next to that question pretty much sums it all up: "I laughed! But you did great so it’s okay you blanked."

If the season ended right now (as the fatuous sports reporting schtick puts it), I’d be in a pretty good position academically – but the season isn’t ending right now, and I have to try to stay focused.  I don’t remember high school being so psychologically uneven, but then I suppose I don’t really remember high school at all, academically speaking.

Does This Roller Coaster Have a Loop-the-Loop?

October 4, 2010 Leave a comment

‘Cause it’s certainly got its share of up-and-down bits.

Last time I posted I was moaning about my brain having seized up after a maternal MINI malfunction cost me most of a day’s working time on my ECE 101 homework.  I ended up turning that homework in with two out of the six problems omitted altogether and one only one-quarter done, with a rather pathetic little note attached explaining that I couldn’t see how the other three sub-questions differed from the first one.  That happened on Friday morning.

On Saturday, my father had to go into work for a while, and when he was done he swung by my house.  I repeated the moan about my homework, grumbling that I’m really not sure this electrical stuff is working for me, and he asked if I could show him what had gone wrong with that question.  So I did.  I’ll spare you the details, but it had to do with working out the relationship between various resistors in a fairly complicated resistive circuit, and changing the two reference points between which you’re evaluating same.  Doing that changes the relationships within the circuit, and though I knew that, I could not for the life of me see how.

Dad looked at it for a couple of seconds, then said, “Well.. what if you thought of it this way?”

What I ended up doing was envisioning the components in the circuit as, basically, “Doctor Nesbitt’s Electrickal Machinerie” – electronic hardware at its most cartoonish faux-Victorian absurd scale.  Resistors the size of fists attached to enormous brass bus bars by cables as fat as your thumb, insulated with the finest gutta-percha from the east end of the Empire.  And then it suddenly made sense.  Imagining the two reference points as physical bars of metal with cables clamped to them made it all fall together for me.  (Those of you who’ve been to WPI may find yourselves picturing that streetcar equipment that is, or used to be, in the lobby of Atwater Kent Labs.  That’s pretty much what I had in mind.)

Fired up by this epiphany, I spent a decent chunk of the afternoon finishing up the missing bits of last week’s homework and then, just for good measure, did this week’s.  It’s not due until Friday, but damn me if it’s not already finished.

This afternoon, figuring that I wouldn’t get any credit for it – which is fair, since I didn’t turn it in on time – I took my weekend’s work over to Andy’s office, just because I wanted to see whether I had in fact gotten it right.  He looked it over, pronounced it satisfactory (I’d done a bit of the math in question 4 wrong, but the theory was correct, and the aforementioned analysis was spot on), and, to my considerable surprise, gave me a fairly substantial percentage of base credit for it.  He liked that I hadn’t just given up after blowing the deadline (and a mental radiator hose) on Friday.  He also liked the mental-bus-bars trick, though he warned me that later on, there will be circuits that I won’t be able to do that for.

I admitted that I’m still pretty lost as to what we’ve covered over the past couple of lecture days, and he agreed that it’s liable to be pretty baffling to someone without a calculus background – but calc isn’t actually a prereq for the course, so we’ll see what happens.  We haven’t actually reached the point where we’ve got homework on RC circuits to do.  It may become clearer once there are examples to dig into.  Or not.  But we’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.  In the meantime, since we haven’t had homework on it yet, they won’t be on Friday’s exam.  Which is good.  Did I mention we have an exam in that class on Friday?

No word yet on how bad I screwed last Wednesday’s MAT 122 exam in the ear.  I’m not expecting good things.  Still, I’m willing to accept the weekend’s turnaround on ECE 101 homework #6 as a victory snatched from the jaws of defeat.  All thanks to my father prompting me to, in essence, look at an electrical engineering problem like a mechanical engineer.  That gives me something to think about vis-à-vis my choice of discipline.  That and the continuing preponderance of computer-related stuff cropping up in my ECE 100 seminar.

How’m I Doing? It’s Hard to Tell

September 27, 2010 1 comment

Week 5 has begun, and I honestly can’t tell whether it’s coming together or the wheels are coming off.

I have a math test coming up in a couple of days (it’s on Wednesday evening for a Tuesday/Thursday morning class, for no reason I can ascertain), and while I’m pretty solid on the stuff we covered in the first couple of weeks, the last week’s worth of material is… nebulous.  I mean, I can get the homework problems right if I keep plugging, and I think I know why the right answers are right once I have them, but it isn’t as automatic as I’d prefer these things to be when I’m going into an exam situation – particularly since the exam is an Old-Fashioned Paper Test, calculators/notes/textbook not allowed, just like in the olden days.  Clearly I need to study more.  The problem is, I’m not sure I know how.

On the plus side, tomorrow’s lecture period will be devoted to test review, so hopefully we’ll be able to get some tips from Prof. Zoroya on things like the exam format itself as well as the material it’s covering.  I expect there will be a significant discontinuity between online coursework and old-school proctored examinations, and that structuring a course to switch from one to the other at an evaluationally critical moment may prove slightly… less than optimal.

For example: Doing a sort of math that involves a lot of graphing (as the area of precalculus we’re in right now does) is a bit odd in an online context, as "graph this function" type problems inevitably become more of a multiple choice "which of these graphs is the one for this function" questions – which is not the same thing at all and can often be intuited without resorting to the techniques that would be needed to produce an actual graph.  And I suspect the latter will be what we have to do on the Old-Fashioned Exam, regardless of what the online homework system has trained us for.  This will be an interesting exploration of the junction of old and new teaching methods – I just wish my GPA wasn’t in the mix.

In other news, I have an appointment to meet with my EE instructor tomorrow afternoon to go over some stuff on this week’s homework and, in all likelihood, do a postmortem on last week’s homework (discussed in the previous post).  I’m ambivalent about this, because while Andy clearly knows his stuff, his teaching style often rubs me up the wrong way a bit.  He reminds me of something someone said about GweepCo back in the old days: "You guys are a tough crowd."  He comes across as a very brisk, sink-or-swim kind of guy, one of the People Who Know What They’re Doing, and he gives a definite sense that if you fall overboard, the boat ain’t stoppin’.  That kind of kein Mitleid für die Mehrheit attitude was fun when I was also one of the cool kids, but now that I’m not sure I am, it’s nervous-making.

(Yeah, I know what you’re thinking – "If this guy has that kind of attitude, why have they got him teaching ECE 101?  The class for people who don’t know what they’re doing?"  I’m not really sure myself, unless their idea was basically, "Let’s give these kids a taste of what the engineering profession will do to them if they show any weakness."  Which, if that is the case, and is anything like accurate, reinforces my growing misgivings about the field I’ve chosen.)

First exam in that course is a week from Friday.  The day before, I’m scheduled to be in Scarborough meeting with my neurologist’s officemate for a third opinion.  Hmm.

As an aside, I was eating a (really rather good) giant pretzel in the Memorial Union caf today when I happened to notice a big banner on the wall proudly declaring that the University of Maine is committed to stamping out discrimination on any grounds.  To drive that point home, the banner’s background image was a mosaic of some grounds on which they won’t discriminate, in various typefaces and colors.  I can’t say I’m on board with the art design – it’s very post-Wired – but one of the words did catch my eye: "Ability".  I’m not sure I follow.  The university can’t discriminate on the basis of ability now?  Does that mean that being crap at math is not going to be an obstacle to a degree in engineering or science?  Because if so, maybe all this self-doubt is needless.

Anyway.  No astronomy this week; the overcast socked in yesterday afternoon and looks like it might – might – break on Wednesday.  Unfortunately, the only time of year when you can really count on that not happening is in the summer, when the class isn’t offered.  I’m hoping this doesn’t turn out to be one of those semesters when the observatory’s only open once in a whole semester of Mondays.  It won’t hurt my grade – the grading system in AST 110 has been calibrated to take the possibility into account – but it will make me a bit sad.