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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.

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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.

Premature Jocularity

October 17, 2010 5 comments

You may recognize the above term from old episodes of SportsCenter; it’s a term they used when covering athletes who celebrated some achievement before it was, technically, complete, and in doing so either endangered it or actually kept it from happening.  Canonical examples include that soccer goaltender who was too busy doing the “I am the man” dance to notice that the ball he’d just deflected was, in fact, rolling into the goal anyway, and that one snowboarder in the 2006 Winter Olympics who was leading a race by such a huge margin that she decided to do a showboaty stunt on the last jump – and promptly stuffed it and had lost quite resoundingly by the time she extracted herself from the snowbank.

I don’t like to risk premature jocularity, because a) it’s obnoxious and b) it leads to a particularly agonizing sort of embarrassment when it all goes wrong as a direct result of showing off.  Besides, it constitutes a very specific type of tempting fate.  I’m as superstitious as the next guy, and the last thing I need is to jinx myself by some round declaration that I’ve got something surrounded.

But all the same, I have to say… last night I sat down and, having accumulated a bit of a backlog of online-math-class homework sets owing to illness, fall break, and a bit of losing track of time, undertook to catch up.  I approached this task with a measure of dread, because in addition to having fallen a bit behind on the homework, I also haven’t managed to make it to lecture for a couple of weeks.  That’s not actually a problem, administratively, because I’m technically in the online class and am not expected to show up for the live lectures at all, but as previously discussed, I think I do a lot better when I make it to them.  But between one thing and another, I haven’t been able to attend since the exam, which covered through Chapter 4.

This meant that I had the homework sets for all the sections of Chapter 5 we’ve covered to do – six of them, plus a quiz on 5.1 through 5.4 – and no live instructor face time for any of it.  Just the “see an example” button and the little videos and animations the online course tools provide.

And… it wasn’t that hard.

Mind you, it took a long time – something like four and a half hours to get it all done – and I felt pretty crispy at the end, because I didn’t actually intend to do all six sets and the quiz in a single day.  I figured I’d do two of them yesterday, two and the quiz today, and the remaining two tomorrow afternoon, between ECE seminar and (touch wood) the observatory opening.  Instead it was like the math homework equivalent of one of those occasions where you sit down to have a cookie and discover yourself, an indeterminate time later, covered in crumbs and clutching an empty cookie bag.  (Or does that only happen to me?)

It took a long time and it left me slightly reeling, but… and again I have to stop and glance furtively around – it really didn’t seem that hard.  It was all to do with logarithms and exponential equations, and the relationships between them, and I’m sure I could still do with some reviewing on the purely rote parts of the process (which bits of an exponential go where in a log, for instance – can be worked out from context in a lot of cases, but it’s presumably easier to just learn by rote which number goes where), but overall it wasn’t nearly as agonizing as, say, rational functions.

In a perverse way, I almost hate it when I start to feel like I’m getting something.  It always places me in danger of pausing too long to admire what I’ve just learned and then finding myself running behind the school bus as it plows remorselessly on to the next stop on whatever route the class is taking.  I think my tattered old brain would like college better if it ran on about a ten-year timescale.  Still, I get what I’m expected to get this week, and that feels pretty good.

Mind you, I’m still not sure where e comes into it over in ECE 101 – I know it’s involved in the calculation of a capacitor’s voltage over time, but why that particular bizarrely irrational number should come into it I’m not all that clear on… but one epiphany at a time.  At least I know what to do with it in that context.

Boy Howdy, I Dunno About That

September 29, 2010 6 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Sweet, Sweet Taste of Failure

September 24, 2010 3 comments

This morning I managed to fail in two different – in fact, perfectly balanced opposite – ways at the same task.

That task was the evaluation of resistive circuits in ECE 101.  I won’t go into the details lest anybody’s eyes glaze over, but basically there are two parts to this task: visually figuring out the interrelationships of the various bits of the circuit (seeing whether resistors are in series or parallel and in what order they should be evaluated), then doing some fairly basic calculations in order to work out the equivalent resistance of parts of the circuit and/or dope out the voltages across and currents through particular bits (which, if you have the resistances and one starting voltage, can be computed for the rest of the circuit using a nifty little bit of math called Ohm’s law, if you’ve done the analysis correctly).

The way ECE 101 works is, the week’s homework is due first thing on Friday.  Upon arriving in the lecture hall, we’re expected to stack it up on the table at the front; then, just before commencing the class, Andy scoops it all up and stuffs it in his backpack, and the homework train has left the station.  Then there’s usually a very quick one-question quiz about one of the topics covered in that week’s material.  This is usually of the "math trap" sort, where what he actually wants to know is if you understand some basic concept, such that you can either see how it works right away or spend a bit more time than you actually have available trying to do the math the long way.  I always fall into math traps, and today was no exception, but that is not actually part of the failurefest I mentioned above.

No, that came when he passed out the quiz and told us to turn it over, and lo, it was a fairly oblique little resistive circuit, for which he wanted the total equivalent resistance.  I saw through the first part of the trap pretty easily: though the schematic provided had a lot of weird angles in it, it was actually a pretty simple circuit which, once redrawn in a tidy rectilinear fashion, offered itself easily to analysis.  The second part, though, was that the values were set up so that a particular algebraic property of the equation for equivalent resistance was supposed to jump out at us and make it all fall into place at once.  It didn’t for me, and I duly groveled through all the math – which I then, just to add insult to injury, Did Wrong in an embarrassingly basic way.  I knew I’d done it wrong, too, and may – I can’t remember now if I actually did it or just thought about it – have gone so far as to note that I was pretty sure my final answer was incorrect. (Oddly, Andy’s sense of these things is so perverse that I might get a point back for recognizing and admitting that.)

Once the quiz was collected, Andy asked if anyone had any questions about the homework just turned in.  One of my classmates asked if he could take us through the breakdown of the most complicated of the example circuits on the homework assignment, an arrangement of nine resistors in a slightly odd pattern and a 24V DC source with the standard instruction, "Find the voltages and currents on all components and present in table form."

Andy duly began leading the class through the preliminary breakdown of the circuit, at which point I instantly realized that, on the sheets from my notebook he’d just stuffed into his pack, I had completely misapprehended the circuit layout.  I had, I knew, done all the subsequent calculations right, and so I had a comprehensive table of what the voltages and currents would have been if the circuit had been set up the way I thought it was; but it wasn’t, so I’d screwed that problem in the ear before I even started doing the math.  Exactly the opposite of what I did on the quiz.  Two flavors of failure, same topic, same instructor, same morning.

Not one of my finer academic performances, and this is only week 3.  I’m starting to get the Fear.