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.
So. As you’re probably aware from earlier traffic – ha! See what I did there? – I’m commuting in my school adventures. I live about 70 miles from the University, once you take into account all the fiddling around on access roads and whatnot that it takes to get from my front door to the parking lot at school. Once the time spent on those access roads and so on is taken into account as well, it’s about an hour and a half each way.
You might be thinking at this point that I ought to be getting quite tired of that by now. And I am! But not entirely because of the driving itself. No, part of the reason for my fatigue has to do with the equipment I have to work with.
For most of this semester, I’ve had regular access to three cars, which sounds more than adequate given that I have only one ass, be it ever so sizeable, to haul back and forth. They are:
1) My own 1997 Saab 900S convertible. This is a fine car which has served me well for the nearly ten years I’ve owned it, and to which I’m quite attached, but it’s getting old and arthritic now and has developed a couple of problems. One is that the roof leaks, but in a particularly strange and esoteric way that has stumped the service departments of three Saab dealerships. Another is that the clutch has begun packing up, probably because they were cable-operated in 1997 and the cable is wearing out. This means it doesn’t reliably disengage with the pedal all the way to the floor, which makes shifting into certain gears e.g. reverse somewhat… noisy.
2) My mother’s 2003 MINI Cooper. Again, a fine car, and very entertaining to drive. On the other hand, the ride is a bit rock-hard, it doesn’t have cruise control, and it has recently suffered the single strangest design-flaw-inflicted injury I’ve ever personally known a car to have. A few weeks ago, as I was driving home in the pouring rain after dark, the electrical system went into complete meltdown, causing the absolute strangest behavior I’ve ever seen an automobile exhibit – for instance, a complete disregard for the position or even presence of the ignition key, and, a bit more immediately worrisome on the Interstate at night in the rain, a disinclination to have the headlights and the windshield wipers engaged at the same time. This turned out to have been caused by – I’m not making this up – a moon roof drain which was so routed that, if the internal tubing became disconnected, all the water it should’ve been conveying to a port on the underside of the car was instead directed as if by design to the car’s central fuse box. Repairs have just been completed, in time for the car to be removed from the equation completely in a little while. More on this in a bit.
3) My father’s 2004 Pontiac Grand Prix. This car is the most mechanically reliable of the three, but makes up for it by being the least economical and least comfortable. The ride is better than the MINI’s, but the cabin geometry is woeful. In an effort to make it sporty and rakish, Pontiac’s designers gave it an extremely low roofline, which makes it difficult to get into and out of and means that, in a side impact, the driver’s head will be smashed against the beam running along the top of his door window, which is padded, but in the same way as the arms of an office chair. Also, until last Saturday, the rear struts were worn out and leaking, which means that the rear tires are now roughly octagonal. Now that the struts have been replaced, the noise and vibration they create must be experienced to be believed. Dad, ever an economy-minded soul when it comes to automobile parts*, assures me that shortly we will take all four of them off and replace them – with two brand new snow tires on the front and two that – and I’m quoting – "probably have one more season in them" on the rear.
So we have one car that appears reliable but is costly to run and uncomfortable (and which Dad would really like back because it still gets better mileage than the other vehicle he’s driving while I have the Pontiac), one that’s entering that end-of-life stage when things start to go wrong in ways that aren’t easily diagnosed, let alone remedied, and one that’s probably fine now that it’s been to rehab for its drinking problem, but is being sold. Why, you might wonder, would my mother sell what is probably, on its face, the best of my three options for school transport? Well, she isn’t really. See, it’s actually in her husband’s name owing to some abstruse technicality of the insurance or something, and just yesterday I learned that he has decided, unilaterally and without consultation, to sell it and buy a pickup truck for himself. In his plan, Mom can drive the hideous Cadillac station wagon he bought last year and then decided he didn’t want, and which has now depreciated so staggeringly it’d actually be more financially rewarding to burn it for the insurance money, get caught, and do the jail time than try to sell it or trade it in. And I can, I don’t know, walk, I guess.
I’ve been confronting this conundrum for weeks, considering what would be the best way to handle it, and finally I decided that what I needed to do was track down something well-made, old enough that it wouldn’t be too expensive but still a few years away from senescence, not too thirsty, and – most importantly – equipped with all-wheel-drive to get me through the long, long years of commuting to school that I have ahead of me before I can, allegedly, get a proper job and buy that new Jag I’ve been promising myself. The only problem there was that I had no income, and it’s difficult to pay for a car – even a cheap old one – without one. So I shelved that plan a couple of weeks ago and resigned myself to the merry-go-round.
But then, out of the blue early last week, I got an email from the Student Aid office saying, in effect, "Hey, remember how we told you you weren’t eligible for workstudy? We lied, here, have some. Good luck getting a job on campus with four weeks to go in the semester, one of which is mostly Thanksgiving break."
Hmm, I thought, and poked around the Student Employment office’s website to see if there were any workstudy reqs still open at this time of the year. And lo, there were a few, one of which was at the Maynard F. Jordan Planetarium. Now, I like a planetarium. I like a planetarium quite a lot. The idea of being a planetarium operator appeals to me the way little kids used to want to be locomotive drivers. So I fired off an application to that one like a shot. A quick mental calculation of the pay scale advertised told me that I could easily afford a modest (and I’m talking very modest) car payment on that sort of income, if I got the job.
And I did. Well, sort of. I got a job at the planetarium. Unfortunately – and this is where the compound irony comes into it – the regular shows at the Jordan are on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons. When I’m nowhere near campus. So I didn’t get the job of presenter. Instead, I started today as the Maynard F. Jordan Planetarium’s student computer tech III.
Yes. That’s right. After all these years and all these attempts to get away from anything to do with the field, I’m the PC support monkey. I spent this afternoon reinstalling device drivers in an effort – successful, I might point out – to help one of the planetarium office’s PCs recover from an ill-advised printer install and regain its ability to write CDs and recognize USB flash drives.
Still, I thought, OK, that’s a disappointment in your life, but on the other hand, you’ll at least be able to get out of this car hole now. Except that’s not the case either, because it turns out that, even in the eyes of the university’s own credit union, workstudy is not employment enough to constitute eligibility for even a small car loan. Six grand, say, over 48 months at 12 percent – right around $160 a month? Easily done according to the pay scale figures (or even, and I’ve worked this out as well, with the overrun on a couple of semesters’ worth of financial aid), but sorry, it’s just not on.
So there we are. I have a job I don’t particularly want, which I was offered because I don’t qualify for the job I did want because I’m a commuter, but which I took anyway thinking it would at least help me to make the commute more tolerable, only to discover that it won’t. And that’s why this long-winded whinge is called "Compound Irony".
* and anything else