This morning I added to my personal mathematics and science library by purchasing the two-volume set of “The Alternate Current Transformer in Theory and Practice,” 1900, third edition, by J.A. Fleming. The volumes are discards from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater library, and were donated to the library on December 8, 1966 and entered as items 119198 and 119199. Maybe I’ll just have to have an antique barrister’s bookcase in which to store them with honor. Someday.

I also bought a used trigonometry textbook – a considerably younger volume – for a quarter. It looks like something that will be useful to look at this summer, as I make the move from algebra and trigonometry to calculus.

It’s almost time to list some more of the geeky books I have on the shelf. And this week I finally finished one.

The Calculus Wars was probably the most annoying nonfiction book I have ever plowed through. The proofreading and copy editing was, hands down, the worst I have ever seen in a published book. I know, in one of my lives I was a professional editor. But I am talking about double periods at the end of a sentence, or no period at all. Typos. Using the wrong word in a way that the spell checker won’t catch it (like “were” instead of “where”). Mentioning a scientific text but not giving the title. Or, giving the title but not including it in the bibliography. Or, mentioning a work but making it clear that you didn’t take the time to read it yourself but are only passing along the opinions of others without attribution (“Some say….”). Or, using anachronistic examples to explain yourself, like suggesting that calculus was invented to describe the path of a pitched baseball.

I started attacking it with pencil and red pen as I read it, and I NEVER write in books like that. I was in it to finish it for the purely historical information, and I did. And I’ll give the author credit for the work he had to do to even find the core documents. That being said, once he had that access, I think (I hope) he had it in him to write a much better book. And I’m professionally disgusted by the poor editorial work of the publishing company. They really made themselves and their author look bad, and that’s exactly the opposite of what you want to do.

Anyway it’s done. So is my second precalc exam, on which I made some stupid errors and cost myself what would have been a pretty spectacular grade. As it was, I got the fifth highest grade in the class and I’m currently third highest in the class overall. But it’s time to knuckle down and get thinking in trig so I can get my numbers up. I think I’m starting to get it, but there hasn’t been much time to really study lately rather than just keep up with the homework.

The presentation at the Physics Department meeting went well, and I’ve already gotten to go over one technical paper. It felt just the same as when I did this job for ASNT when I was 24, but now some of the text is material I can actually understand. At least until it goes all “calculus” on me. But I am getting little bits and pieces figured out.

Astronomy is focusing on the life cycles of stars. And next Monday after class there will be a presentation by a Wolfram rep on their Mathematica software. Apparently I can purchase this at a staggering student discount. If they throw in one of their old Einstein posters, resistance will be futile (it always is).


Crash of Moons

For the first time, my schoolwork has spilled seriously over into my weekend, and it’s been a struggle to figure out how to get everything done. (And it would have worked, too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids!)

Not Ready for Triangles Yet.

I have a record amount of work; in math class we started our introduction to triangle-based trigonometry. These are some concepts I worked with in Algebra II in high school – but remember, that was around 1983 or so. They must have come easily to me at the time, because I don’t recall any struggles. But speaking from right now, this feels like completely new material, so I might as well approach it that way. So I had a section to review of that before I had a bunch of trig homework to do.

On the other side of the mathematical coin, I have an exam coming up on Friday that will be covering the two chapters we studied before trigonometry. So I have some concepts to review, some formulae to remember (such as the relation of pH to Hydrogen ion concentration, and the rate of radioactive decay), and some flash cards to create. I need to learn the new trig parts without letting it confuse me on the non-trig. We will get a sample exam and have a review session this week, so that should straighten itself out, but I’ll be glad to have this particular exam behind me so I can drag myself completely into the trigonometric world.

A Very Similar Spectroscope

Then there’s astronomy, where my instructor has been piling on more homework and projects by the day, in an effort to kick the slackers’ butts. This week I have a written report due on last week’s emission spectroscopy lab, a two-page review of a Physics Today article on Kepler’s solution of “the Mars problem,” and a online project to be done from home — plus whatever reading I’ll need to do to catch up with the lectures. She expects us to know a new batch of equations and constants now, so apparently there’s some studying I should also be doing. I have Planck’s Constant down (6.262 x 10^-34 J/sec) but there is so much more to know.

Apart from all that, I have thought about the purpose of this whole re-educational journey and decided to refocus on technical and scientific editing. I have the work history, I have a few contacts, I have the curiosity about all kinds of subjects, I have the computer skills. I have a lot going for me there that a physics degree can only augment. So last week I gathered my courage and some work samples and got myself an audience with the chairman of the physics department about offering my editorial services in exchange for work experience (and references) I can put on my resume.

Friendly Professor Rybski

It went all too well! He asked me to email him a letter of introduction that he might be able to use to get me sort of an apprenticeship in grant writing. That would be the gold star on my resume if I could say I had helped get grant money, for sure. And he also asked me to rework my resume, bring some writing samples, and introduce myself to the rest of the physics faculty at their department meeting. On Monday afternoon. 24 hours from when I’m typing this.

Ummmmm…. gotta go! Work to do!