I just registered for my spring classes. I think the schedule I’ve constructed might be a little too ambitious – I’ll be jumping from 9 credits this semester to 18 in the next – but it does have its advantages.
Here’s the schedule grid for the week after we get back from Spring Break. Notice the big block off to the right? That’s an odd, odd course; it meets all day Saturday, but only three times over the course of the semester. You may have noticed that the designation shown on the schedule is somewhat less than illuminating. That’s because it’s one of those catchall course designations that can mean different things at different times. I’m taking a course called HTY 398 this semester, too – an online class entitled “Maine in the American Revolution” – but next semester it’s a non-online class that meets on three Saturdays and involves attending a full-weekend conference in Camden in February with the ominous title The Middle East: What Next?
Now, I’ll admit right up front that I am not terribly interested in the Middle East barring T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom, but one of the requirements for a history degree at the University of Maine is that you must have taken at least two courses involving the history of some part of the world other than Europe and North America. With the schedule above I’m hitting both of those next semester (“History of the British Empire” counts as one too; Britain is in Europe, or at least next to it, but the Empire was not), as well as clearing off the last of the 100-level courses required (106, the followup to HTY 105, which I took in fall 1993).
I also have to admit that I’m awfully tempted to drop HTY 450, despite the fact that it gets the other half of the foreign history requirement out of the way (and that the instructor is my HTY advisor, Professor Miller), because it’s been verrry nice having Tuesday and Thursday off this semester, not only from an oh-God-not-more-driving perspective but also from an oh-God-not-buying-more-gasoline perspective.
On the MET side, what I’ve got there is the sequel to this semester’s thermodynamics class; officially they’re “Thermal Science” and “Thermal Applications”, but basically they’re Thermodynamics I and II. MET 126 is also a sequel to a class I’ve had already, but has a new instructor. Not sure what to make of his scheduling choices. Has he got a day job or something? I think the way that and Thermo II are scheduled will keep me out of my work study gig altogether on those days, but on the other hand I’ll be open for both the afternoon and night labs on Tuesday and Thursday, which is a point in favor of not dropping HTY 450.
Have to wrap this up right now, as I need to go post a sign at the MTL noting that there is no night lab tonight, then head home and wait for the power to go out.
Seriously, I hate the first two weeks of the semester. There are a number of reasons for this. One is that I’m coming off a prolonged period of inactivity, and moving again is always accompanied by the mental screech of rusty joints. Another is that I spend the first week, if not two, not quite remembering when or where anything is, in a constant state of feeling like I’ve forgotten something important which is usually – but not always – false. A third is simply that it’s hard to see the end of the semester from the beginning. That was one of the things I liked about the seven-week terms at WPI; you could always see the other end of the tunnel.
Anyway. The fall semester at the University of Maine started a week ago today – well, Monday – and, having made it through the first week, I have a few things to report.
First: This is kind of a strange semester. I knew it would be in the spring, when I signed up for the classes I’m taking, but now that I’m actually doing them it’s even a little weirder than I thought. Mainly this is because I’m still in a technical major – still mechanical engineering technology – but I’m not taking any courses directly relating to that program. It’s almost like being a humanities student again.
This is not just because I didn’t feel like it, of course; it’s because I’ve run into a major bottleneck in the program. It turns out that almost everything after the really basic freshman stuff, which I took in the spring, has Physics I as a prerequisite. Seriously, the lot. If I had a copy of the flow chart my advisor showed me I’d inline it here so you can see. After the first semester, it pinches down to PHY 107 like a crowd control choke point at an airport. On the other hand, I still needed to be taking at least 12 credits this fall to maintain my standing as a full-time student…
After a great deal of Pauli Exclusion Principle Bingo with the online catalog, I managed to find a selection of classes that looked interesting, might not be a complete waste of my time, and in one case ticks off the two remaining boxes on the General Education Requirements form. My advisor will no doubt give me hell about it when we meet up to plan Spring 2012 later on this fall and he sees what I ended up with, because he’s very efficiency-oriented and will be terribly annoyed that I A) took humanities classes that fit GenEd categories I’ve already met and B) didn’t take Chemistry I. (Two lab sciences in the same semester? Er, no thanks.)
So what am I taking? In no particular order:
GER 101. Yes, this is what you think it is: Introductory German I. "Why in God’s name would you take German I?" I hear you asking. (Actually, I hear Professor Crosby asking, because he did, last April, when it appeared on my Wish List.) I’ll give you the same answers I gave him: One, I’ve always kind of wanted to learn German, and they didn’t offer it at my high school; two, German strikes me as a more-than-usually useful foreign language for an engineer to know; and three, I still might manage to swing a semester abroad next year, and if I do I’ll probably end up in Austria. Everywhere else the University has overseas consortium agreements with only offers liberal arts stuff. (This might technically be a corollary to point two rather than a point in its own right.)
HTY 279. This class is entitled "European Military History" and, as you might expect, has a lot of ROTC kids in it. They must be slightly puzzled by the presence of the pasty-faced, leviathine civilian in the corner, but the hell with it. This one Prof. Crosby doesn’t know about, since I discovered and added it after our meeting. It might come in handy if I decide to declare a history minor, which would also give me something useful to do with all those history credits I have from my previous lives. If not, well, it’s still more interesting than sitting at home and slipping to part-time enrollment status.
INT 400. This is an odd one. I mentioned it in my previous post, back in May. It’s one Prof. Crosby won’t argue with, because it knocks off my last two GenEd requirements. This class is a bit puzzling, because it has three catalog numbers, a different title to go with each of them, and is being taught by a veritable Senate subcommittee of professors. The incarnation I signed up for, INT 400, is entitled "Pop!Tech: Impact of Technology on Society", but in the online course tools it also answers to PAX 398, "Topics in Peace and Reconciliation Studies", and PAX 598, "Independent Graduate Study". At its heart it’s geared toward an online participation in and analysis of the annual Pop!Tech conference in Camden, which I gather is sort of a northeastern TED Conference, but with such a profusion of instructors (each of whom appears to be taking point on 10 days’ worth of the course), it’s bound to be a bit… chaotic. I’m still feeling my way through the syllabus, but I’ve gotten the first week’s worth of work done and it does at least look like it’s going to be interesting. If nothing else, I assure you it was by far the least desperate-looking of all the offerings that clocked the Ethics and Population & The Environment GenEd requirements. (I have very finite interest in sustainable arboriculture in the Pacific Northwest.)
Oh yes – and after all that, I’m not actually taking PHY 107.
You see, the School of Engineering Technology at UMaine began in the early ’70s as a two-year associate degree program, designed to create sort of proto-engineers who were expected to complement the tradespeople emerging from the state’s system of Vocational-Technical Institutes, one of which is over in Bangor. As such, SET has always had a fairly close relationship with those schools, which continues today, even though they’re no longer VTIs. They’ve changed names twice since then, in fact, first to Technical Colleges and then to Community Colleges. They even offer some four-year degrees themselves now, and SET morphed into a four-year program long ago (which means the University is in the peculiar business of running two parallel four-year engineering programs).
One of the interesting side effects of this is that the introductory physics courses offered over at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor are accepted credit-for-credit by SET. Three credits for the lecture and one for the accompanying lab, just like you were staying on campus and taking PHY 107 from the gang in Bennett Hall.
Well, there’s an evening division, which means I don’t have to be attempting to operate a physics lab at 9 in the morning, but the really critical difference from my perspective is that PHY 107 at the University costs $1,188.00 plus about $400 worth of books and gadgets (they use a sort of game-show-buzzer class-participation widget called an "i>clicker") and meets five times a week, whereas PHY 121/122 at EMCC – for the exact same credit – costs $400 and meets twice a week.
There are tradeoffs, of course. EMCC doesn’t have quite the same cachet as the University, and it’s slightly further away; also, studying "away" in this fashion causes the Financial Aid office at the University to get weird and refuse to release the balance of my financial aid until they get a form from EMCC proving I’m really showing up for classes ,which EMCC refuses to send until their add/drop period is over (which isn’t until Wednesday). This has caused some interesting cash flow problems. Still. The entire class costs as much as the books for the UMaine version. I think I’ll take the win. And as for cachet, it’s still going to be the University of Maine’s name on my degree, so what the hell?
(I am indebted to my MET 107 teammate Bill Long for this tip, which he gave me as we were leaving the Machine Tool Lab on the last day of the class.)
So that’s the lineup, such as it is. I dropped Differential Equations after getting nowhere with an attempt at reviewing calculus on my own time over the summer. Not sure what I’m going to do about that. I don’t intend to take Calculus I and II over for credit; if nothing else, it would waste eight credits’ worth of my financial aid capacity on stuff I’ve already finished. It was 20 years ago, though, so I need something. I should swing by the Math Department office and see what the procedure is for auditing, if that’s even an option any more. Or change to a program where I don’t need any more math credits than I already have.
I keep thinking maybe I’d like to be an architect. The only problems there are that the University doesn’t have an architecture program and I can’t draw. These are not trivial problems.
In future posts, we’ll take a closer look at my classes individually, and I’ll have an update about my workstudy situation. Right now, bedtime.
Remember how I said last time that I wasn’t ready to go back to school? Well, the way this week has gone, it appears that school wasn’t ready to go back to school either.
First I swung into the department office on Monday morning to talk with the admin assistant about my waitlisted math class. She saw my point as to why I wanted to change to MAT 126, but said I had very little chance of getting into it with a waitlist more than 10 deep. However, she said it’s usually offered in the May term, which is a sort of pre-Summer Term summer term. As a May/summer course, it happens every day, but only takes three or four weeks, and I think that would be OK if it was the only class I was taking.
The upshot of that was that we dropped TME 152 and 86ed my waitlist slot for MAT 126, and now I’m not taking any math class this semester… which means that, since none of my other classes line up, there is now no day of the week on which I have more than one class (if you don’t count MET 107 lecture and lab as separate classes). This is… weird. Hell, two of my classes, MET 107 and COS 120, only happen once a week! (There is a version of COS 120 that meets on two days, but I didn’t sign up for it initially because it conflicted with TME 152 – and I didn’t switch to it this week because, possibly in a deliberate attempt to be as inefficient as possible, they scheduled the lecture for Monday morning and the lab for Friday afternoon. I mean, what?)
Also, while I was there, the admin lady looked at my course list and said, "That music class isn’t going to do you any good, you’ve already met the fine art requirement with one of your transfer credits from Worcester." I’m not sure how any of my transfer credits from WPI could possibly have met the fine art requirement, but the Computer says it’s so. So she handed me a list of courses and said, "Find something on that which meets at least two of Ethics, Population & the Environment, and Social Context & Institutions."
There aren’t many of those, and most of the ones I found aren’t offered in the spring semester or have prereqs I can’t meet, but upon closer examination of my degree progress report, I found a different combination of requirements that I could hit with a class that a) was being offered and b) I was actually interested in taking, which is how I find myself enrolled in CLA 102, "Latin Literature in English Translation". (CLA is the University of Maine’s course code for Classical Studies – basically, the kind of thing that used to be all universities did, 150-200 years ago.)
I considered Introduction to Women’s Studies – it would have hit Social Context and Ethics – but the syllabus for the online version, the only one I could fit into my schedule, gave me the Fear. Understand, I generally approve of women, and I’ve got no problem with their situation in the modern world being viewed as a topic of academic investigation. That’s perfectly legit with me. On the other hand, I don’t know that I could meaningfully interact with an instructor who takes the following position on the matter in the syllabus, before the word "go" has even been uttered:
This course takes a feminist theoretical perspective on many of the topics covered and utilizes the extensive feminist theory that has developed over the past thirty years to analyze women’s ongoing oppression in our society.
I mean, call me an unreconstructed cad, but if you’re going to throw down "oppression" in the introductory paragraph, I’m thinking the whole scene is going to be way too adversarial for my liking. I’m all for barging out of one’s comfort zone. It’s why I’m taking a class in the operation of machine tools this semester. But I have to draw the line someplace, and I think there is as good a place to draw it as any.
So, yeah, anyway. Before I’d even made my first class, I ended up, with the active encouragement of my department office, paring my schedule down to four days, each of which, weirdly, only has one actual course in it. Then it was off to the first meeting of MET 107, Machine Tool Laboratory – what we would be calling Metal Shop if this weren’t Srs Unvrsty Bsns rather than high school vocational training. I sound like I’m cutting vocational training down there, but that’s not where I’m coming from. It’s just that the university will have its academic pretensions about what is, after all, a class about making metal things by hand on big machines. "Laboratory" indeed.
Regardless, the first session was interesting, if a bit dry – there was a tour of the shop, which gave me mighty flashbacks to the metal shop in the Engineering Resources Department my dad used to run in the local paper mill when I was a kid, and an extensive safety briefing with slides of people who had gotten their Loose, Floppy Clothes and/or Long Hippie Hair caught in lathes. As Professor Anderson puts it, "I spend the first three weeks scaring you half to death about these machines and then the rest of the semester trying to make you comfortable with them."
I won’t be back in the machine shop for a couple of weeks, because I’m in the lab session that immediately follows the lecture on Monday, and there’s no school next Monday. That gives me plenty of time to line up safety glasses with side shields, get a pair of steel-toed shoes (ironically, when Dad and I bought the shoes I’ve been wearing back in August, we considered the steel-toed version and then decided I would never need that), and call my neurologists to ask, somewhat belatedly, whether I should actually be taking a class that involves the operation of metalworking machinery, what with me having to get a head MRI every six months until further notice. I, uh, probably should have thought of that sooner, but I haven’t actually cut any metal yet…
Then yesterday I missed the one class I had, which would have been the first session of an introductory mechanical drawing course, because at the time it was being held, I was at the campus health center trying to find out whether the cold I’d had since the previous Tuesday, and which had prevented me from getting a decent night’s sleep at any point in that week, was in fact some sort of entrenched sinus infection that would require antibiotical intervention to shift. (I can’t sleep if there’s nasal congestion going on. It just doesn’t work.) After a very long wait, I was examined and informed that no, it was just a bad head cold, and if nothing else I had tried had worked, I should go and buy a nasal rinse bottle and take some Benadryl.
"Even if it doesn’t help the congestion," the nurse said pragmatically, "it’ll put you to sleep anyway."
(I’m actually vaguely in awe of the sinus rinse. I’ve done jala neti for a while, but the gravity feed technique doesn’t work very well vs. impacted sinuses. The squeeze bottle method, on the other hand, boy howdy. It feels really weird, but I feel perfectly fine right now, where I spent yesterday afternoon staring into space and wondering why the people around me in the waiting room weren’t visibly reacting to my freakishly swollen forehead, which, I was sure, must have been at least 44 inches in diameter. Could be just a coincidence – that I was in the last four hours of the cold anyway when I bought the bottle – but damn, yo.)
And then today what would have been the first session of COS 120 was canceled because the University as a whole packed it in at 2 PM on account of the snowstorm. Which means, assuming there are classes tomorrow (which there should be), and assuming I make it down to the one I have (which I expect I will), I’ll have finished up the first week of the semester having attended two whole classes, and then, thanks to my newly blank Fridays and the holiday Monday, it’s straight into four days off. Well, apart from homework and whatnot.
All of which adds up to me feeling like the semester hasn’t really started yet, except for a vague sense of time pressure – that feeling I always get when there are deadlines involved, even if, as with MET 107’s project deadline, it’s four months away and I’m not even expected to be checked out on the machines yet. One thing I can already see is that the way my classes have ended up laid out this semester is going to make it hard to get into a rhythm. But that’s as may be. I’ll just have to ride it out and hope next fall comes together more cleanly. And that the new congressional overlords don’t kill the Pell Grant program. Which reminds me, I need to get next year’s FAFSA in ASAP, speaking of deadlines.
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.
And by “spring” I actually mean winter, but the University will persist in calling it the spring semester.
Once again I have been unable to secure even one day off, because that math class is only offered MWF and MET 121 is only offered TTh. And look at that Wednesday! A, why is that class at 5 in the afternoon, and B, what am I supposed to do with myself for five and a half hours? (And C, yes, you’re reading that right, IT IS A BLOODY DAMNED PROGRAMMING CLASS, it turns out there’s at least one in the curriculum of EVERY MAJOR I CONSIDERED during last week’s Vocational Emergency.)
Well, OK, I know exactly what I’ll probably doing for most of that time. Getting lunch and then being planetarium computer monkey. But man, it’s going to be a struggle getting motivated to show up for math on Fridays. I’ll be spending more than twice as long in the car as I am in class!
On the plus side, they all look interesting. On the minus side, there’s a train wreck coming next school year, because switching majors mid-year means I’m out of phase with the introductory Technical Physics courses, which are prereqs for a number of things I should be taking in year 2. That means I’ll be taking them instead, and the things they’re prereqs for in year 3, and so on. But, like I told the lady in the School of Engineering Tech office, I’ve effectively been delaying graduation for the last 18 years, so another one’s probably not going to kill me as long as my financial aid doesn’t get cut off.
Which it might do, actually, now that the Heartless Party (as opposed to the Feckless Party) is back in command of Congress and a man who has said that the University of Maine System will have to “justify its existence” is going to be governor. But one crisis at a time.
Tonight’s crisis: I have an exam in CMJ 103 tomorrow that I can’t seem to settle my head down and study for, because of… well, I don’t even want to explain what because of, it’ll just get me riled up again. It has to do with my mother, her husband, and cars. Let’s leave it at that. For now, I’m thinking about going to bed and trying again in the morning, before driving down and not picking up the MINI from the shop for the… what… 16th day since repairs were completed.
I mentioned the other day that my father and I had discovered a potentially fatal flaw in the network of dependencies that is the electrical engineering curriculum. We were looking over the sample curriculum and looking up some of the classes it predicts I’ll be taking in later semesters in the catalog, when we discovered that Introduction to Programming for Engineers (ECE177), slated for next spring, has Calculus I (MAT126) as a prerequisite – which is a problem, as I’ll be taking it that same semester. This is Not Allowed, officially, or else ECE177 would specify “or concurrently”. In a mild panic, I spent an evening working up a modified course plan that basically took me out on a year-long part-time loop in order to come back to spring 2012 with the prereq in place (since ECE177 is only offered in the spring semester). I actually rather liked the looks of it by the time I was done with it – it would have made for a much gentler reintroduction to the world of academic rigor than I’ve actually arranged for myself by just diving into the deep end of the pool – but it was still, indubitably, a WPI-style Five-Year Plan (only not taking half a semester’s worth of courses in spring and fall 2011 rather than, in the more standard WPI style, taking but not passing them). I didn’t figure my advisor would rate it too highly when I got in to see him this afternoon.
In the event, he was rather taken by it, but he also declared that it was moot. “We’ll just override that prerequisite at the spring semester faculty meeting,” he said. “Remind me around finals time to put it on the agenda.”
One thing he did concur with was that, since I care about succeeding in my precalc course as much as I do, I should absolutely drop Intro to Chemistry and pick it up again later, if that’s the only way to make the timetable work (and it is). I asked him why chemistry is on the curriculum – is it just the simplest (scheduling-wise) way to get the general lab science requirement, or is there something special about that specific subject that they want us all to have? He wasn’t sure, but wondered why I would ask, so I explained that, with Intro to Astronomy (in, er, 1993) and the Intro to Astronomy Lab (which I’m taking now), I’ll have the general lab science requirement already – so if that’s all CHY121/123 are for, I don’t necessarily need them at all. He said he’d look into that, but even if the curriculum committee came back with no, he needs chemistry, I’ll be able to take it in some later semester. I’ve got a few holes here and there where my old-timey credits have picked up several of the general-graduation-requirement elective slots that are in the sample curriculum. Heck, even if it turns out I don’t need it, I might take it anyway, ’cause that’s how I roll sometimes.
So at least that’s taken care of. Now I have to write nice notes to my chemistry prof and lab TA, just to let them know that it was a scheduling thing and not because of anything they said. I’m sure they don’t need my reassurance to validate their teaching careers or anything, but it’s only polite. I’ve actually had quite a good time in Dr. Rowe’s lectures. I’d keep going if I could keep the lecture without the lab, but, alas, it is (unlike with AST109/110) Not Allowed.
For reasons that are not yet clear to me (I suspect it has more to do with the later years of the program), the EE program at UMaine requires all students to have a laptop computer. They provide a list of specifications to the on-campus computer store, Computer Connection, which then makes arrangements with various manufacturers to make available hardware that fits the requirements. In EE’s case, the most suitable system for the purpose that CC offers is a special version of the Lenovo ThinkPad W510 – not quite the top-of-the-line W510 spec, but more capable than the standard “middle grade” version thanks to some customizations. I ordered mine on August 5 and was told it’d take three weeks to arrive, which would have had it arriving comfortably in time for the semester to begin.
Until the containerload of them mine was in got hung up for a week at Customs in Alaska, that is. It actually arrived yesterday. But that was okay, because, as I said, nothing has come up in the first week of the freshman curriculum that called for it. I unpacked it last night and have spent the morning getting it squared away. Now I’m writing this post on it by way of getting used to the keyboard.
I’ve had a ThinkPad before, back when they were made by IBM (if memory serves, it was an i1400 series), and I still have fond memories of it. It was the first laptop I had with a DVD-ROM drive in it, and it had a pleasant air of indestructibility about it. This one is much the same – it has the same black slabbiness, the same sense of solidity, and the same terrific keyboard touch. And it’s a ThinkPad, so it has the nice little TP touches like the TrackPoint mini-joystick mouse thing (which they’ve made a bit wider and flatter since my old one) and – my personal favorite – the little lamp at the top of the screen that illuminates the keyboard in dark rooms.
Another tech toy that’s come my way this week, but will probably only be really necessary in future semesters, is a Texas Instruments TI-89 Titanium calculator. This thing is a calculator in the same way that the Saturn V was a rocket. It comes with a fat paperback manual, and closer inspection reveals that that’s just the “Getting Started” guide. The rest of the docs are on a CD that came with it. I have no idea how to get it to do anything, but the docs claim it can do pretty much anything but bake bread. (And there might be an app for that.) And when I say I don’t know how to get it to do anything, I mean I can’t even figure out how to convince it to divide. Doing what my intuition says is the right thing – figure one, division sign, figure two, enter – produces only a helpfully prettied-up fraction, which is frankly less than helpful. My math skills have atrophied over the years, yes, but even I recognize at a glance that 5280 divided by 27 is 5280/27. That’s not really what I’m asking for.
I’m sure it can do proper division. The fault is entirely in me. This is rapidly becoming a familiar theme this semester. Pretty much all my classes (apart from the public speaking one) assume you already know how to do a fair bit of algebra, which is unfortunate for me in that I, uh, really don’t. The fact that I achieved a passing score on the math placement test (and thus got into Precalculus) says I do, but my gut feeling of utter bewilderment when various algebraic concepts – particularly those involving exponents and/or fractions with variables in the bottom part – come up in class suggests otherwise.
I wouldn’t be so preoccupied with this except that I ended up in the arm’s-length online MAT 122 section. The professor has noted on the class’s inevitable FirstClass conference that those of us within striking distance of Orono are welcome to attend the classroom lectures of his regular version, as it’s held in one of the huge lecture halls and there’s plenty of room – but the Tuesday one overlaps my chemistry lab and I question the usefulness of just attending the Thursday one. Annoyingly, no video or audio version of the lectures appears to be available for us distance students – just PDF packages of the prof’s PowerPoint slides, which are of less than ideal usefulness without any sort of context or commentary.
I spent most of Thursday night and yesterday grappling with this, and eventually I concluded that there were three possible courses of action:
1) Drop Chemistry and start going to the Tuesday and Thursday Precalculus lectures. Advantages: I won’t have a class at 9 AM any more; I’ll hopefully be able to get more solid math instruction; my credit load for this semester (which I tend to suspect was a bit too ambitious for a first returning semester anyway) will go down. Disadvantages: I won’t have Thursday off any more; my credit load will actually go down a bit too much, dropping me to 11 hours for this semester (12 is the threshold for being considered a full-time student) and angering the financial aid gods; I need Chemistry to fulfill a degree requirement, so I’ll have to take it sometime.
2) Try to get switched to a different chem lab that meets at some other time. Advantages: accommodates math without making it necessary to drop chem. Disadvantages: might not be possible, as almost all the other chem lab sections meet at times that conflict with some other class I have, and the one that doesn’t is full. Also, it eliminates my day off without getting me a later start time on the others.
3) Just keep trying to make it work as it currently stands. Advantages: I keep Thursday off and don’t cause a lot of potential scrambling around in future semesters. Disadvantages: I’m really not sanguine about my chances of making it happen in math this way.
Because yesterday was the last day I could do it, I added a one-credit-hour course – AST 110, the laboratory component of Introduction to Astronomy, which I took the lecture part of back in 1993 – to address the sub-12-credits problem dropping Chemistry would cause. That means I’d be on campus late into Tuesday evening. OTOH, dropping Chemistry would mean I no longer had the recitation that kept me there late into Wednesday evening any more, so it’s kind of a no-op on that front. I have a couple more weeks to drop without penalty, so in either case (I decide to drop chem, or I don’t but don’t want to go up to 16 credits this semester) it’s not a permanent commitment yet.
I suspect I need to talk to my advisor and the math prof about this before making a final decision, but yesterday was the Friday before a holiday weekend, so neither one was to be found by the time my last class ended at noon. Annoyingly, my first class when school resumes on Tuesday is the first chem lab, which I’ll have to attend before I’ve been able to decide whether I’m even keeping the class. So I guess I can add the pre-lab to the pile of stuff I need to do this weekend.
Speaking of which, I’d best be about it. I don’t want to fall into my old bad habits, like leaving everything until 1900 or so Sunday (or, this weekend, Monday) before starting. I may not have a solid grasp of math yet, but I can at least try and cultivate some good working habits at last.
Oh, and speaking of math and problems, in the course of researching alternatives yesterday I discovered that one of the standard EE classes for the first year’s spring semester, ECE 177 (Intro to Programming for Engineers) has MAT 126 as a prereq. That’s… a problem, since I’ll be taking MAT 126 that semester. But then, I don’t want to take a programming class anyway. Another reason to consider switching to Electrical Engineering Technology: it doesn’t have programming classes. (In fact, looking at the course descriptions from the EET sample curriculum, this semester’s classes look much more interesting than what I’m actually doing. I’m not sure how that failed to come to my notice last month. I did look at this stuff before.)