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The Pay-Off

December 22, 2012 Leave a comment

fall2012grades

Here we have this semester’s grades, fresh from the grill.  Note that it was, in fact, worth the death-defying, adversity-strewn ride to campus for the Thermo final after all.

Also, please note that the unit count reflected below the semester’s grades is a little misleading.  Specifically, the part where it says I’ve taken 14 credits “not for GPA” and only managed to pass one of them.  What it really means is that I passed the one-credit pass/fail ECE freshman seminar, the grade for which was predicated entirely on showing up, and formally withdrawn from 13 credits’ worth of classes over my career – three for that online Classics class that got munched by the Medical Adventure over the summer (as the Dean’s office did in fact approve my retroactive medical withdrawal from same), and 10 when I left school before the end of the spring 1994 semester to take a job at Leading Edge.  A W grade is recorded on one’s transcript when that happens, but it’s a no-op: no credit, but no harm to GPA either.  Basically all it means is that you dropped the class too late to get a refund, but before you would’ve been committing to an F.  Withdrawing from those 1994 classes properly instead of just allowing myself to F the semester was just about the only thing I did right that year.

(And I still don’t remember how I passed ENG 101, College Comp, that semester, when the Ws in everything else mean I must have withdrawn and left town before the semester was two-thirds over.  I must’ve gone to the instructor and said, “OK, look, I’m out, but this class is cake and it seems like a shame to waste the money.  Here is the term paper that’s due at the end of the semester.  I think you will find it is Superior,” or something to that effect.  Can’t remember a thing about it now.  I’m glad I did whatever I did, though.  Imagine me taking ENG 101 year before last, when I first returned to the University.  Thirty-seven years old, a former professional writer, taking an English class aimed at kids who didn’t pay much attention in high school.  The mind boggles.)

Also, transfer credits aren’t figured into GPA, which is a shame since I rocked the house in the physics courses I took off-site last year (the second of which is reflected in the Term Totals here because the transcript didn’t come across until this fall).  OTOH, if they counted the handful WPI classes I transferred in for credit, that would hurt, since I don’t think I ever got better than a C during my whole time at WPI, except in one history class UMaine didn’t give me transfer credit for.

(Hmm, I had the original transfer calculation run when I was an ECE major.  I wonder if some of the ones they didn’t count would figure in now that I’m working on an HTY degree.)

Anyway!  Disaster averted, and the financial aid gods should be satisfied with that; I don’t think there’s anything in my aid package that counts on anything higher than a 3.5 (and most of it’s 3.0).

It’s only a nine-credit semester, 3/4 time, but given what I’ve been up against this fall, I believe I’ll call it an acceptable result.  Now I have three weeks to have the flu before the craziness of my 18-credit spring semester starts…

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Well, THAT was a day.

December 20, 2012 4 comments

As previously noted, I was a 3/4-time student this semester, because of the ongoing recovery from my summer medical adventure.  I took three classes; one was online and did not have a final exam.

So, naturally, the finals in the other two – completely unrelated classes in different colleges, one for my MET degree and one for my history degree – ended up scheduled back-to-back on the Wednesday of finals week.  Which was today.

I should note that it started snowing here in north-central Maine on Monday afternoon… and, apart from occasional periods of sleet and/or freezing rain, which is not a helpful change, it hasn’t stopped yet.  For the past two days, the University of Maine has basically been the only school in Penobscot County not closed on account of the weather.

I got up this morning and went outside to find that my front walk and car were covered with around a foot of wet, heavy, hard-to-shovel snow.  It wasn’t until I’d finished shoveling that lot up, and in the process kicking off an asthma flareup that still hasn’t subsided, that I noticed I had a bigger problem: the man who plows our driveway hadn’t been by yet, and the municipal public works plows had left a three-foot-high wall of packed ice across the end of the driveway that there was no way any of our tools around the house were going to shift.  By the time Mom’s husband Vince managed to track down the plow guy and get him to come over and scrape that away, I’d have been running late for my first exam on a normal day, much less on Day 2 of a heavy snowfall.

I emailed my professors and let them know what I was up against, but that I was going to give it the old college try, then set off.  I live 12 miles via State Route 157, a typical two-lane country road, from Interstate 95.  This normally takes between 15 and 20 minutes, depending on (believe it or not) the traffic.*

Forty minutes later, I had just about reached the Interstate when my history professor, whose exam was scheduled to begin fairly soon, phoned me to say that I shouldn’t drive down on account of his class if I didn’t think it was safe, and that he’d get with the TA who’s been in charge of the class subsection I’m in and work out another way of handling my final.  With an extra couple of hours suddenly added to my schedule and the prospect of possibly not having to make the trip at all, I bought a meat snack and a hot chocolate at the gas station by the Interstate exit and made my way slowly back home, thinking I’d at least have time to get some lunch.

I had just about arrived at home when my other professor (Thermal Science), whose exam was set for later in the afternoon, emailed me and cheerfully related that he’d checked his records, and I’d be all set if I chose not to turn up for the final in his class.  With my excellent homework record and decent-to-quite-good range of scores on preliminary exams, I’d end up with a C-, easily clearing the minimum requirement to progress on to his Thermal Applications course next semester.

Please note that he was not being sarcastic or snide with that.  He’s genuinely not bothered about how much you pass his class by, as long as you pass it.  With a perfectly aligned engineer’s mindset, he’d crunched the numbers and determined that the outcome would be Acceptable, and he was pleased to let me know that my troubles were over.

I like Professor Crosby a lot, but coming from a background where I’d be grounded for a month if I brought home a B in math, I find his mindset on grading a little difficult to get behind; and anyway, I don’t think the financial aid gods would have been quite so sanguine about what that’d do to my GPA, so I scratched lunch from my plans and got ready to go out and do battle with the snow again.

It was at this point that Vincent called and insisted that, if I was planning to go back out into the snow, I should take his 4WD pickup truck instead of my poor old Pontiac.  Which meant slogging across the yard to Mom’s house for the keys.  Note that Mom and Vincent were both at home sick with some kind of Arcturan misery virus today, so naturally this would be the day when, while I stood in their front hall trying to breathe as shallowly as possible (already feeling wheezy in the chest) and thinking dark thoughts about swarming pathogens, they couldn’t find the keys.  Protesting that A) I was already going to be late because of this and B) I don’t want bird flu, I tried to leave four or five times, to increasingly plaintive cries of no wait wait I know they’re here somewhere from my mother, before I finally escaped.

Then, in the driveway, I thought hmm, I wonder, tried the door of the pickup, and found that it was unlocked and the keys were in the ignition.  I believe it was last driven sometime last week.

So I shlepped my things across and hit the trail again, feeling marginally more confident.  I was about halfway to the Interstate again when I looked down and found that the truck was nearly out of gas.

OK, don’t panic, I thought, there’s that full-service gas station in East Millinocket, I’ll fill up there and won’t even have to get out of the truck.

You’re not going to believe this next part, but I swear it is the truth.  As I arrived in East Millinocket – literally just as my eye sought out and focused on the lit-up sign showing today’s price at the full-service Shell station on Main Street:

The power went out.

Gas station and neighboring credit union signs suddenly dark, town’s one traffic light goes into blinky yellow “the grid has failed me” mode.  Zap.

I believe I said aloud something along the lines of, “Are you f—king kidding me?!”

I wondered if the power would still be out when I got to Medway, the next and last town before the Interstate.  It was.  The Citgo station and the Dysart’s one, both dark.  Now I have a serious problem developing.  I don’t have enough gas to make it to Orono, and the next town down the line from Medway, Lincoln, is miles off the highway via an access road.  If the Irving station out by the Interstate (where I had, you may recall, earlier bought a meat snack and a hot chocolate) is out as well, I’m beached.  I’ll have to turn around and pick my way back across 157 to Millinocket again, at which point I’ll be so late I might as well not show up at all.

Here, at last, the Force was with me a little, because just as I arrived at the Irving station, the power came back on (giving me the interesting sight of the electronic price sign saying that the per-gallon cost of regular unleaded was ERROR).  Breathing a sigh of relief, I pulled up, went through the usual procedure, pressed the button to select the grade of gasoline I wanted, and received the message, NETWORK ERROR PLEASE TRY AGAIN.

“Oh, the power’s just been out,” said a voice behind me, making me jump slightly.  I turned to see the woman I’d bought the meat snack and hot chocolate from earlier, holding a roll of tape and a handful of signs reading CREDIT CARD READERS OUT OF ORDER PLEASE PAY INSIDE.  This apparently happens often enough that they already had these signs ready to go.

“I don’t have any cash,” I said.

“The one inside works, it has a backup system,” she told me.  “It’s just the ones in the pumps.  Reset it and hit PAY INSIDE and you’ll be fine.”

(Modulo the backup system actually involving a dial-as-required screechy modem somewhere under the counter and about a five-minute wait for authentication, anyway.)

Thermo exam scheduled start time: 2:45 PM.

Speed limit on Interstate 95 today: 45 MPH.

My arrival time in the room where the Thermo exam was happening: 3:15 PM.

Prof. Crosby was startled to see me arrive; having told me not to sweat it and that I’d pass the class if I didn’t show, he figured that’d be the end of it.  Fortunately, since no one else needed the room after us, he let everyone overrun the scheduled exam end time (5:00) a bit, stretching it out until 5:30.  Which was good, because I needed that extra half-hour.  I still didn’t quite finish the exam, but with a little help from Our Lady of Partial Credit, I may yet pull a decent score on it – and since I already knew I had a C- without it, anything I manage to score on it will be gravy in a way.

As we packed up to leave, Prof. Crosby said, “You’re not going back tonight, are you?  Feel free to bunk on one of the couches in the MTL student lounge and head back in the morning if you think it’d be safer.  Nobody will bother you in there.”  This was mildly tempting, but indeed I was heading back forthwith, because – an email from my history professor which had arrived while I was phone-off for the Thermo exam informed me – my history final was waiting in my inbox at home, for me to complete tonight, on my honor, without reference to the textbook.

Which I did when I finally got home around 10.

Phew.  Man.  Some days you get the elevator and some days you just get the shaft.  Props to Professor Riordan and Lee-the-TA for cutting me a break on the history exam, though.  And that’s one more semester in the can.  And I don’t have to go anywhere for the next several days… which is good, because I think it’s supposed to snow again on Friday…

Edited to add: It’s Friday and I have, in fact, got the flu.

* By “traffic” I don’t mean gridlock, but rather that it’s a two-lane country road in an area where the mean age is something like, no kidding, 55 – which means one stands a fairly good chance of ending up behind some aged citizen who lacks any sort of sense of urgency, and if you’re thwarted by oncoming traffic at the one or two good places to pass, one can easily end up having to dawdle along at 35 MPH or worse the whole way, even on a perfectly clear, dry summer day.  This is unspeakably infuriating when it happens, which, naturally, it tends to do when one is running late.  In this case it didn’t happen, but frankly it wouldn’t have mattered if it had, since I don’t think I got about 30 at any time anyway.

So That Was Fall ‘11

December 24, 2011 2 comments

Every semester there seems to be one grade that gets posted long after the others, just before the Student Records deadline.  Interestingly, it usually seems to be for the online course.  Correlation does not necessarily imply causation, but perhaps the phenomenon needs more study.

Anyway, they’re all in now.  In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that I did not match my 4.0 performance in the spring semester; taking a technical subject was my downfall there.  (Once again I reflect that this always seems to happen, and yet I persist in a technical discipline, which makes me wonder what the hell is wrong with me.)  Still, with a little last-minute (completely legitimate) exam retaking, I did get my lecture grade in Physics I up to a B, and my lab grade turned out to be a surprising A- (I say “surprising” because I think I scored 60% on the first lab report).

I don’t have my GPA all calculated neatly for me this time, because I took Physics at Eastern Maine Community College and those grades won’t appear on my UMaine transcript until they’ve managed to grind their way through the machinery at both schools.  However, I can work out what it would’ve been if I’d had all my classes at the same school easily enough.  EMCC calculates GPA using something rather revoltingly called “quality points”, but that’s just a label for the same trick UMaine uses to break down grades vs. how many credits for each class.  In the spirit of my physics lab reports, here is a breakdown of my calculations so that you can backcheck my math.

HTY 279 European Military History: A (4.0) x 3 credits = 12.00

GER 101 Introductory German I: A (4.0) x 4 credits = 16.00

INT 400 Impact of Technology on Society: A (4.0) x 3 credits = 12.00

PHY 121 Physics I lecture: B (3.0) x 3 credits = 9.00 “quality points”

PHY 121 Physics I (lab): A- (3.67) x 1 credit = 3.67 “quality points”

Total credits: 14  Total grade/”quality” points: 52.67

52.67 / 14 ≈ 3.76 (semester GPA)

So not quite last semester, but far from disastrous.  I think they’ll let me keep my financial aid with numbers like that.

Annoyingly, speaking of financial aid, next month I get to repeat this fall’s irritating bureaucratic dance, because I’m taking Physics II at EMCC as well (same instructor, same time slots, it’ll be like winter break never happened).  That means UMaine’s bursar’s office considers me an “away student” again, even though I’m taking 10 0f the semester’s 14 (or possibly 15 – more about this in a moment) credits in Orono, and won’t come across with my financial aid disbursement refund until after EMCC’s add/drop period ends.  That means no money until the second or third week of the semester, and that in turn means that those are going to be pretty long damn weeks.  Fortunately, I already have my book for German II (it being the same as the one for German I), and thanks to EMCC’s curious approach to these matters I don’t need one at all for Physics II, so I’ll only have to go into parental hock for about $300 worth of books.  And about that much again in gasoline.  This commuting business is a mug’s game, I tell you.

Anyway, the big surprise up there for me is my grade in INT 400.  That class was the inevitable one where I have no idea how I’m doing for much of the semester, not because I wasn’t getting any feedback from the instructors, but because the final grading rubric made no sense to me.  That meant I had no real idea how that feedback would boil down to a grade at the semester’s end.  Added to which, the course was generally fraught with confusion for me; I may post about it in greater detail at some point.

Next semester is a continuation of this one in a couple of respects.  German II and Physics II will have the same instructors as the first installments and there shouldn’t be any big surprises there.  One of my other classes is MET 126, Machine Drawing, which is the sequel to the CAD class I took last spring (MET 121, Technical Drawing), though sadly not with the same instructor, and they’ve redone the MET CAD lab such that it actually isn’t one any more – the computers are all gone.  Someone in the department finally realized that, since every student in the program is required to own a laptop computer capable of running Solid Edge, trying to maintain the ever-decaying CAD lab was a pointless waste of the department’s money – which, fair enough, but I wonder how we’re supposed to print in there now.  I suppose I’ll find out.

The real glaring flaw in next semester’s schedule is MET 150, Statics, the first of the physics-derived engineering-science courses in the program (and step 1 beyond the huge bottleneck in the program flow chart that was Physics I).  I’m not looking forward to Statics for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s a physics class, and as we have seen above, they’re a bit of a weak spot for me.  Second, and most importantly, it’s at 8 AM.

Now, my mother has always assumed that my deep inner aversion to things that start before about 10 in the morning is a simple matter of laziness.  I, on the other hand, contend that it runs much deeper than that.  I am lazy, yes, but that merely accounts for my general reluctance to go out of my way to do anything at any time.  The morning thing is not part of that.  It has, rather, to do with the fact that I am essentially useless at that hour.  “Well, go to bed earlier,” is her usual counter to that.  I’ve never been able to make her understand that it doesn’t matter when I go to bed.  I could have had 10 hours of sleep.  I’m still going to be only questionably sapient before 9:30 or 10 in the morning.  Now add to that the fact that my brain seems to work best between the hours of, say, 10 PM and 3 AM, and you have a scenario where I have to sacrifice my most potentially productive time every day in favor of being awake when there’s next to no point in it.

If you’ve got all that on board, you may just be able to understand why I might resent that a little.  Throw in the two-hour lead time required for me to get from bed to anywhere on the UMaine campus and you have a recipe for 16 weeks of, well, misery.  And misery of questionable usefulness, at that.  I’m genuinely not sanguine about my chances of succeeding in any class, much less a math-heavy technical one, that meets at that hour of the day.  And that doesn’t even take into account my work study gig, which tends to involve shifts from 6 to 9 PM, and what the hell.  And that’s the only time that class is ever offered – 8 AM M/W/F in the spring semester.  What Professor Dvorak is doing the rest of the time, I’m not sure.  Having a sleep disorder, would be my guess.

I have to admit I am sorely tempted to take my history prof’s advice at this point and jump ship from engineering altogether.  (I got an email from him partway through the semester saying basically, “You’ve got a real flair for this, have you considered becoming a history or history/IA major?”  And, well, of course I have, I was a history major in ‘93-‘94, but where are the jobs in that field?  I emailed him back and said I was very tempted by the thought, but that my mother would murder me in my sleep.)

Still.  Statics at 8 is a bridge I can burn in a couple of weeks if need be.  For right now I’m on break, I’m off to visit my grandparents for a few days tomorrow, my grades are in, and even if the governor manages to get me thrown out of the state’s health insurance scheme (which he very much wants the Legislature to do this spring), it probably won’t threaten my enrollment status until summer.  So I guess I won’t worry about that stuff right now.  Time for a week or two of laurel-resting.

An Unprecedented Accomplishment

May 15, 2011 5 comments

Some of you may know, from prior posts or just having already known a few things about my personal history, that I have never actually completed a full year of college before.  In 1992, I did stay at WPI until chucking-out time because the room was paid for, but I pretty much stopped going to classes midway through D-term, owing to a general feeling of hopelessness, and I received no grades whatever for that term (because that’s how WPI rolls).  In 1994, I got a job offer from Leading Edge and withdrew from the University of Maine in mid-April, before the withdrawal-equals-failure deadline, which is why all my spring-1994 grades are Ws (which don’t affect cumulative GPA) and not Fs (which do).

(As an aside, I did somehow manage to not just finish ENG 101 Introduction to College Composition that semester, but in fact pull an A in it.  I don’t remember now how I did that, since the other grades being Ws confirm that I did withdraw long before the end of the semester.)

So finishing {four terms|two semesters} in a row is something I have never before managed to do at the college level.  Still less have I ever in my life been a straight-A student; gym class, laziness, and (after fifth grade) a general lack of engagement in mathematical topics saw to that all through public school and, as we have already covered, college takes 1 and 2 were frankly pretty much disastrous.

As such, and despite my childhood-ingrained aversion to being too much of a showoff, I am pleased to report:

20110514-spr11grades

Now.  In all fairness I have to note that this is far from the most burdensome course load ever carried by an undergraduate at the University of Maine.  As you can see, those are all 100-level courses (one of which is an introduction to the easiest programming language on Earth), there’s no math class on the list at all, and it’s the absolute minimum credit count for full-time student status, 12 credits (the sample curriculum for the MET program recommends 15-17 per semester).  So this is not, in absolute terms, an achievement with which to set the academic world alight.

However.

It’s still a semester 4.0, it’s still a Dean’s List performance by the Office of Student Records’ standards (I think; it’ll be published in June), it’s still the first time I’ve ever actually finished a full year of college, and it’s still the first time I’ve ever passed a computer programming course of any kind.

So I’m pretty pleased with it.

(Also, while I’m bragging, I kicked ass in CLA 102.  My final numeric score was 615 points out of a possible 600, or 102.5 percent.)

I can’t afford summer classes this year, so now it’s back onto the shelf until August, when I tackle Physics for Engineers I (a prerequisite for a whole raft of stuff in the MET curriculum and thus a major bottleneck), possibly differential equations (which should be interesting, since I can’t remember my 1991 exposure to calculus at all), and… some other stuff, I forget exactly what.  It’ll probably all get rearranged in the first week of the semester anyway.  According to the curriculum calendar I should have Chemistry I as well, but I’m really dubious about taking two lab sciences in the same semester.

As you see, I’m reminding myself not to be too impressed with my modest accomplishments here, but at the same time, what the hell, it’s just this once: go me. :)

Well, That’s One in the Bag

December 14, 2010 Leave a comment

With today’s MAT 122 final over with, my first semester as a comically overage undergraduate is complete.

I had five classes, but since two were only one credit apiece (and one was four), my total course load was a mere 12 credits – the minimum necessary to maintain standing as a full-time student.  Of those five classes, four were graded (A-F) and one was pass/fail; the latter doesn’t count toward GPA.

I haven’t received my grades –the deadline for posting them is December 27 – so I don’t know for certain where I’ll stand once all the scores are in, but neither final exam felt particularly disastrous and my performance in both of those classes has been decent, as far as I can tell.  I’m not one to keep track obsessively of how my coursework is going over the span of the semester, but I think I’d have noticed if I’d gone down in flames at any point, and though there were some dicey moments in ECE 101, my actual graded-work performance has been fairly solid.  And though I haven’t received my score for last Friday’s speech in CMJ 103 either, that same speech won the Oak Awards later that afternoon, so I think I can be excused for being reasonably confident about that one.

So, touch wood, I think I’ve done pretty well.  Especially considering how much rust there was on a lot of those neural pathways, I trust I have not disgraced my clan.

Ironically, the big question mark here is AST 110, and the reason it’s a question mark is because of the way the course was presented.  I had a great time in the observation sessions, despite nearly freezing to death* in the final one, but the rest of the course was an exercise in frustration and annoyance.  You may recall that, due to scheduling problems, I had to take the online version of the course.  This was presented using the University’s WebCT system, and it was, not to put too fine a point on it, infuriating.

The problem with WebCT, at least as regards AST 110, is twofold:

1) Interaction with the instructors is exceedingly minimal.  There are discussion boards, but the instructors don’t appear to monitor them, or at least they’re under no obligation to respond – they’re a little like those boards MMOs maintain, where the GMs read them but you can only expect answers from the other players.  This is often annoying, because

2) WebCT isn’t a good system for presenting that particular course as currently prepared.  This isn’t a general "WebCT is rubbish" complaint – there are specific reasons why it doesn’t work for AST 110.  Basically, a lot of the learning modules, as prepared, involve making eyeball estimates from diagrams and/or charts, then basing some calculations on those estimates.  The problem there is that WebCT is a very stupid multiple-choice system that’s programmed to expect very precise answers – answers it is not likely to get, at least not with the degree of precision required, from students who had to eyeball a diagram on the screen to start calculating them.

The upshot of these two shortcomings was that a lot of the learning modules were as much exercises in engineering what WebCT was expecting as they were about actually mastering the astronomical concepts being presented, and eventually I just gave up messing with that, plugged in the answers I was getting, and let the chips fall where they may.  I have no idea whether the instructors have any override authority to compensate for WebCT’s insistence on precise figures a student can, in many cases, only arrive at by blind luck, nor whether they particularly care to exercise it if they do.  If they do, the damage probably isn’t as bad as I think.  If they don’t, my grade in that course may not be all that good, which is a shame, because I have a great love for astronomy and did usually come out of the learning modules understanding what they were trying to put across to me – I just didn’t have any way of persuading WebCT of that because the assessment were so poorly structured.

On the other hand, it’s only a one-credit lab, so as long as I passed, it won’t do all that much harm to my GPA.  (And yes, I did note all of the above in my semester’s-end course evaluation, for all the good I expect it will do.  I’m not convinced anyone actually reads those, for all that the University takes their administration achingly seriously.)

Right now, thanks to a computer science course I neglected to withdraw from properly in the fall of 1993 and so logged an F in, my GPA is 2.937 – a tiny, tiny bit below the threshold for most, if not all, supplementary financial aid (read "upperclass scholarships").  We shall see within a week or so whether my performance this semester has been sufficient to improve that.  (I’ve only just learned that I could have applied for readmission as a pseudo-transfer student, since I need well over 30 credits to graduate and had been gone more than five years – that would have wiped my old GPA and started me over.  But I didn’t know that at the time, and now it’s too late.  Alas.)

 

* not really