Archive

Posts Tagged ‘victory!’

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the one-credit pass/fail ECE freshman seminar, the grade for which was predicated entirely on showing up, and formally withdrawn from 13 credits’ worth of classes over my career – three for that online Classics class that got munched by the Medical Adventure over the summer (as the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still don’t remember how I passed ENG 101, College Comp, that semester, when the Ws in everything else mean I must have withdrawn and left town before the semester was two-thirds over.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…

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.

A Strange Game, etc.

September 6, 2011 Leave a comment

As I’ve previously noted, this past spring I managed to post a 4.0 semester GPA.  This was as much a function of the classes I was taking as of any academic exceptionalism I may possess, but I was still reasonably pleased with myself.  I looked forward to seeing my name on the mysterious and elusive Dean’s List.

Except… as the summer went on, it began to appear that the University does not publish a Dean’s List any more.  Or if it does, it keeps the whole thing very quiet, which would seem to be to miss the point slightly.  High schools far and wide were trumpeting their honor students in the area newspaper, but not a word appeared about anything to do with the University of Maine.  I confess I was a bit disappointed by this.

Then, one day in early July, a letter appeared, all unheralded, in my mailbox at home.

20110701-senatorthomas-letter

As you might imagine, I found this slightly puzzling.  I mean to say, it’s nice hearing from one’s state senator (I had to look him up and determine that he is my state senator – they’ve rejiggered the senate districts so that the senator representing Millinocket no longer has to be from anywhere near here, and indeed Senator Thomas is from somewhere over in Somerset County), but this was the very first I’d heard of the matter.  It strikes me as slightly strange that the University evidently makes its Dean’s List available to the state legislature but not the students who are on it.

Whichever, I tucked Senator Thomas’s nice letter away for posterity (my mother wants to start a scrapbook, egad) and went on with my summer, until, almost exactly a month later, a second letter appeared.

20110802-umaine-letter

I had heard of the Presidential Scholar Award, but I didn’t think I qualified for it because of my uneven performance the previous semester (that inexplicable D in astro lab, which rankles me yet).  There it is, though.  I understand why this was a little later in arriving, since Paul Ferguson had just started his tenure as university president at that time (he took over from Robert Kennedy in July), and one can hardly expect a new president’s very first order of business to be sitting down and sending notes to students.

So that was a nice surprise.  It didn’t come with a check, but one can always dream.  There’d be something slightly unseemly about that anyway.  Shades of payola.  It did come with a little pin I could wear in my lapel, if I wore suits.20110906-psapin

(The photo makes it seem bigger than it is because of the lack of scale references.  It’s about the size of a dime – a little ostentatious, but it wouldn’t be too showy on a blue suit.)

What I wonder now is, if you win this thing, and then you utterly tank in some subsequent semester, can someone from the university come and take it away again?  Does your name get sent to the Legislature on a list of Manifest Disappointments to be chided by their state senators for slacking off and letting the side down?  Is there, as it were, a stick to go with the carrot?

Probably not – that would clash with the everybody-gets-prizes mentality of modern education – but I’m vaguely amused to picture it happening.

Also, it occurs to me that through all of this, I never have heard from my college’s actual dean.  I’m not even sure if it’s his theoretical list or that of the university’s overall Dean of Students.  Either way, not a word.  I guess they figured the president trumps whatever notification they might have been thinking about.

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. :)

OK, So I’d Make a Lousy War Correspondent

April 29, 2011 3 comments

"We now take you to our correspondent in War-Torn Wherever, Benjamin Hutchins.  Benjamin, what’s going on there?"

"Well, Bob, uh… not a lot, right now.  But the locals tell me things were cuh-razy around here a month ago!  Boy howdy!"

I think what makes me a lackluster blogger is the same thing that’s always made me a poor diarist and an indifferent correspondent: I don’t feel justified in posting or writing to someone unless I’ve got something interesting to report, and often I have a hard time feeling like I do.  This is particularly true at the height of the semester, when it’s basically "Well, uh… went to class, did some homework, went to the next class and turned it in."

Still, the semester’s just about over now (there’s only finals week next week, and by an odd coincidence only one of my classes this semester even has a final),and there have been a few interesting developments to report.

Taking the most recent first, the final engine tests in MET 107 were conducted today.  As you may recall, at the start of the semesters we were split up into teams of six and given a list of required parts (and the prints from which to make them), with the ultimate goal of building a single-cylinder pneumatic engine by the semester’s end.  On the prints it’s called a steam engine, but since we didn’t actually have a boiler handy (for safety reasons), we drove ours with compressed air.  We all got together in the machine shop this afternoon and ran our engines while Prof. Anderson timed them with a strobe.  (An engine that didn’t run would have constituted a major grade deduction.)

The team I was on, Team 2, went into the competition pretty confident.

20110429-met107-team2

Fig. 1 Team 2. From left: author, Ben White, Bill Long, Clark McDermith, Cam Terry. Not present: Mike Peasley. Photo by Herb Crosby

We had all our parts done by the beginning of this week and were doing test runs by Tuesday evening.  Bill, one of my teammates, had access to a deburring mill at his job and had spent a lot of time obsessively polishing all the parts as we finished them and turned them over to him, so ours was by far the shiniest engine…

20110429-met107-engine2

Fig. 2 Engine No. 2. Photo by Herb Crosby

… and once we overcame the fact that I apparently can’t drill a concentric hole in a brass bushing even with the tailstock of a lathe (sigh – I must have scrapped eight of those damn things), it ran as beautifully as it looked.  Bill could actually make it turn over just by blowing into the intake, and since the test pressure was 100 PSI (er, rather more than the average human output, I should think), we had high hopes.

The first run demonstrated that we might actually have done a little too well at the polishing and fettling, as, well, this happened:

MET 107 steam engine test, run #1

 

We actually blew the valve rod bushing right out of the steam chest on the first run.  (Amazingly, this was not the bushing I had so much trouble with.  That one had the piston rod running through it and performed perfectly in the actual test.  For the technically curious, I made the base plate, the columns, the piston rod bushing, and the piston.)

Fortunately, we had time to tear it down and fix the problem before our second run.

20110429-met107-engine2repairs

Fig. 3 Engine #2 down for repairs. Photo by the author

  A couple of false starts, some hurried consultation, a helpful senior, and a few minutes’ work with the scissors in Bill’s Leatherman, some brass shim stock, and the arbor press, and Team 2 was back in business.  By then the other teams had all had their runs, the fastest of which clocked a top speed of 2287 RPM, so Bill and Cam stepped up to the testing bench, and…

MET 107 steam engine test, run #2

 

… 3266 RPM, baby.  The fastest entry this semester, and only 480 RPM shy of the all-time record, 3746.  (Bill’s sure we could get it going that fast if we had more time to futz with it.)

So hey!  Victory.  It’s what’s for dinner.  (Apologies for the crap camera work.  Bit excited.)

More news to come, and it’ll get steadily more out of date as the posts go on…