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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.

Ha Ha Ha No

October 2, 2010 1 comment

Remember when I said I was going to crash at Dad’s Wednesday night, get up and go home first thing Thursday morning, and have a nice leisurely day to finish up the ECE 101 homework I’d gotten a nice early start on the previous weekend?  I sounded so cheerful and optimistic there, despite having just tripped over a math test and bumped my head.

So, naturally, when I climbed into Mom’s MINI (which I’d borrowed because it had gas in it) Thursday morning, it wouldn’t start.  For no reason anyone has been able to determine, the battery had gone stone dead overnight.  So dead that the guy AAA sent couldn’t get it started with one of those portable jumpstart battery pack things, but had to go back to his garage for proper jumper cables and start it off his truck.  So instead of heading home bright and early to finish up my work, I spent the morning taking the car to the Foreign Car Center in Hampden so that they could try and figure out what the hell was the matter with it.

This was a tall order, and one they couldn’t fill right away; electrical problems are always hard to track down, and the MINI’s is apparently particularly subject to the Automotive Defect Uncertainty Principle.  Its electrical system blinked innocently and asked, “Who, me?” when queried by the tech tool.  I waited around for Mom to pick me up, and was then trapped running a million and one errands around Bangor with her all afternoon, because, she declared, gas is too expensive to waste it on a round trip just to pick me up.  I got home at nightfall, worn out and pissed off.

The homework… didn’t get finished.  I got the big ol’ current/voltage analysis done, which I consider an accomplishment given my frame of mind, and I already had the first and last questions finished, but I ended up making several blundering attempts at the others with the distinct sense of unmeshed gears spinning fruitlessly inside my head.  Eventually I ran out of time and cope at about the same time, and ended up scribbling a rather pathetic note to that effect on the page where the answers for questions 4 and 5 should’ve been.  If I were my instructor, I’d probably dock me a couple more points just for being a whiner.  (And at least one for having had part of one of the missing questions personally explained to me in a one-on-one meeting Tuesday afternoon, and managing somehow to uncomprehend it within 48 hours.)

The only plus side is that I did manage to perform one act of prioritization.  By the time I got home, I was fairly sure I wouldn’t have enough time and energy to get everything done that I needed to do.  So instead of starting with the remainder of the ECE 101 work, which would’ve taken me all of the time and energy I had and still wouldn’t have been finished at the end, I started by completing my outline and notes for CMJ 103.  Cutting my losses, you might say.  So at least I was ready (more or less) to deliver the speech.

And then today, once I got all that done, I had to spend the afternoon stranded in Bangor with more of Mom’s strangely multiplying errands, because they’re keeping the MINI over the weekend to keep scrutinizing the mysteriously nonchalant electrical system.  And I had to go and wrangle with the homecare people about the problems with New Nose Machine, which it occurs to me that I haven’t actually written about here because it’s not directly relevant to the college thing.  Or at least it wasn’t until having to take care of that this afternoon, on top of everything yesterday, made me blow my first newspaper deadline… um… ever by being unable to put together a piece I owe the Campus this week.  Not that I have the mental bandwidth to have gotten involved with a newspaper anyway now that the technical half of my semester’s course load has started fraying in the slipstream.

I know this post reads like it’s basically just a litany of excuses for lousy performance this week.  But it’s not really about excuses.  They say that one should be able to overcome all the difficulties and inconveniences life unexpectedly throws at us all and get one’s work done anyway; it’s one of the central premises of the College Experience because, they say, it’s what the Real World will expect of us when we get there.  Failing to meet one’s responsibilities because of unexpected life screwups is like being the car behind in a collision – it’s your fault regardless of the circumstances, because you should’ve been paying more attention.  And in that respect, I’ve simply not been on the ball enough.

The thing is, I don’t think it is just a question of Trying Harder.  I was trying as hard as my shrunken old  brain could at those last couple of ECE 101 questions, and they just weren’t happening.  I consulted my own notes, notes I took with my very own hand in class, and they might as well have been in Martian.  And I’ll be honest with you, that scares me more than a little.  Some say certain neurological conditions which normally have overtly physical effects can occasionally cause subtler harm, slowing thought patterns and making it harder to concentrate or recall.  I’m starting to wonder if that’s what’s going on here… or if that’s just some part of me looking for another excuse.

So, uh, yeah.  This hasn’t been my most impressive week.  Like I mentioned a while back, test pilots talk about being “behind the airplane”, a situation that usually ends in a fiery crash.  They say you can feel it happening.  This week, I really know what they mean.

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.