I just went on a little spending spree on, mostly for the math and physics shelves of my personal library. It’s a library that needs more shelves; yet, my ten-year-old daughter has already volunteered to catalog it. I am not quite sure she understands what this will mean, but I’m all for it. It’s a big project that will require steady and thoughtful work over a sustained period of time, and it will be good for both of us.

A Quilted. Card. Catalog. I’m not worthy!

My late former husband left behind a computer that will make a perfect “card catalog” — it’s a 2006-era iMac with a hemispheric base. I didn’t even know he had owned one until I was helping to pack up his house after he died. I saw it and was instantly charmed. I have it in storage in another state, so I won’t even be able to pick it up, plug it in, and install any software until the summer. By then, there will probably be several more books to catalog.

It just looks like a kiosk, doesn't it?

It just looks like a kiosk, doesn’t it?

I just ordered five geeky books from Amazon, after I made the remarkable discovery that some people are willing to sell a used copy for one penny that goes for more than $100 new. Try it — search Amazon for textbook, and sort from low to high. Check it out. Amazing, isn’t it? How bankrupt could you be if you didn’t know how to filter?

So I bought…..
• Volume 2 of the study guide for Physics for Scientists and Engineers (Serway et al., 2000) for $0.01 used [as much as $97.60 new]
• Vector Calculus (Marsden, 1976) for $0.01 used [could have paid as much as $106, and the study guide is even more expensive!]
• Knotted Doughnuts and Other Mathematical Entertainments (Martin Gardner, 1986) for $0.80 used [could have paid, but didn’t, $87]
• and I purchased my personal Holy Grail, Volume 2 of a mid-60s edition of the Feynman Lectures on Physics, for just $16.96 including shipping. Considering I bought Volume 1 for 50 cents from the local thrift store (I am CONVINCED someone is stacking that particular deck) and Volume 3 for a song from Half Price Books Online, I firmly believe I have finally gotten the deal of the century on a matching-enough-for-me three-volume set. [Don’t even guess how much this would go for if “new”.]

I said I bought five items. I did.
On the recommendation of a friend, I also purchased “Johannes Cabal: The Necromancer” for less than $10 including shipping. I trust him, so I’ll check it out.

All items are arriving at random before January 23.

As I think I’ve previously stated, I will need more shelving. And soon.

Trouble with the curve

Sometimes, when a curveball comes at you hard enough, all you can do is duck, dust yourself off, and try again the best you can.

Due to pressing circumstances in the non-scientific and mathematical portion of my life, I have altered my course once again. I have been away from school for three weeks taking care of other business, and my new course entails finding a full-time job, developing extraordinary gifts at managing a household budget, and taking an incomplete in Calculus I until I am able to finish it over the course of next semester. Physics 190 I think I can finish.

It’s all good now… and if it doesn’t look good yet, just give it (and me) a little time. It’s going to be all right. And even if I never get back to school to finish the degree I started, I may possibly have enough math and physics texts to last me the rest of my life (even if I live as long as I want to, which will take a while). I also have enough supportive friends to see me through to the end of my days. (And enough knitting projects, but I said at the inception of this blog that I wasn’t going to talk about knitting here.)

I’m still resolved to go forward. Maybe I’ll have time for those Boy-Scientist experiments now. My kids all demonstrate scientific curiosity, and they need mentoring. (There’s an honest to goodness SCIENCE FAIR coming up in two months and it’s time for Jack to pick a project.) There is still plenty to do.

In the middle

Right now I’m in the middle of things in almost every sense of the word. (Well, probably every sense of the word, but I didn’t want to limit myself. Let’s leave room over there for future expansion.)

I should really walk to the stairwell and take my own pictures.

At work we’re in the middle of a move to our new building, Laurentide Hall. Departments are moving in a floor at a time, so as we’re putting the more-final touches on our space in the College of Letters and Sciences Dean’s Suite, Languages & Literatures will be moving in to the floor below us. And as they move, Mathematics & Computer Sciences is packing to be ready to move in two weeks’ time. People are griping, worrying, giving away books (!), looking forward, and leaving old things behind. There is much psychic disturbance in the air, and I’m sensitive to it to a fairly high degree.

I sense tension, Captain.

In calculus we’re in the middle of the course….the second exam will be on Monday covering the rest of Chapter 3 and the beginning of Chapter 4. I seem to be keeping up with the pack, so although I do need to do some studying, I don’t feel I need to panic at the thought of a test.

In physics we got the results back from our first exam… and my score was the median (I got 60 percent; low was 20 percent and the high was 88 percent). That’s not bad for my first physics exam in my first physics class! I am weak in some areas but doing my best and getting help. Anyway — right in the middle again. If I work hard and stay strong and shore up my vector-component calculation skills I can still finish with a strong B, which is my target.

It feels like the middle of fall. The rainy season has started, the leaves have turned, and the rain is pushing them from the trees. We haven’t had “Indian Summer” yet or the Cold Snap of Doom….all that has yet to come.

Not my barn, but close enough.

I’m feeling more enmeshed at school, too. I’m not sure if that’s due to the student job putting me in the middle of the action, or my classes finally putting me in with other physics majors and math aficionados, but I feel more involved and connected to things.

Ironically, it’s right now that I’m realizing that unless I suddenly receive a winning lottery ticket in the mail, I will most likely have to take a “study break” and make some money for a while and come back to school later. I just won’t be able to pay off this semester in time to register for the next one. I might be able to swing a late add of Calc II in the spring so that I stay enrolled and could keep my student job, with more hours. Or I might have to get a regular job and see how that goes. I’m not sure. I’m kind of in the middle of mulling it over. I want to maintain my sanity and my grades as well as my forward progress.

Trials and error

I’m not really sure what week it is any more. The schedule has been rearranged so many times that it doesn’t matter. I keep revising my deadline dates in my planner, I tilt at the Windmill of the Evening until further effort is useless or needless, then I crawl off to sleep and take up a different lance the next day.

The pace of each course is fast, and I knew that going in. And each week, each professor reminds us as a class, “The pace of this course is fast, and there’s basically nothing we can do about it.” In physics, for example, the goal is to cover all of physics in one year. Then, as Professor Benjamin says, “You spend the next three years covering it all over again.” Keeping pace with it is similar to filing paperwork in a wind tunnel.

Kind of makes you wonder why that cat keeps jumping back on the treadmill, doesn’t it? Motivation towards a goal is often mysterious. It’s quite possible that even the cat doesn’t know for sure. (And if he does know, he’s certainly not going to tell us.)

I haven’t had much time for recreational reading (or recreational much-of-anything; sorry, knitting group!) lately, and to tell the truth I really should be reading physics or studying derivatives right now, but a few weeks ago I found a lovely little volume at Half Price Books called “Einstein and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings” (ed. by Thomas McFarlane, 2002) and I pick it up and read a couple of pages every once in a while. Today I read a pair of quotes that really resonated with me, perhaps because we’ve been discussing the concept of Error in physics lab.

Experimenters search most diligently, and with the greatest effort, in exactly those places where it seems most likely that we can prove our theories wrong. In other words we are trying to prove ourselves wrong as quickly as possible, because only in that way can we make progress.
—Richard P. Feynman

In our world error is continually the handmaid and pathfinder of Truth; for error is really a half-truth that stumbles because of its limitations; often it is Truth that wears a disguise in order to arrive unobserved near to its goal.
—Sri Aurobindo

I have spent a lot of my life being afraid of Error, and trying not to bump into him in the hallway. I was afraid of what people would say if they saw us hanging out together; I had a reputation to think of! Conversely, I have made a living by finding Error where no one else could. Without him, I had no other marketable skills. Perhaps it is time for Error and I to rethink our relationship to be, shall we say, less confrontational. Maybe we can find a way to work together.

“Umm… Houston…..”


Learning to fly

I really wanted to put together a post before I had taken any of my fall courses, in an attempt to capture the pre-semester jitters of a 45-year-old physics fan. However, that just didn’t work out. NOW is when I have a few spare minutes, so NOW is my writing time.

I have a busy schedule. I am working 16 hours a week in my student job. Part of this involves helping faculty members pack for a move into a renovated building; part of it is helping move my own office stuff into the new building. We’ll be on the fourth floor of Laurentide; that’s a lot of stairs involved in my anti-elevator vow.

I am also taking Calculus I, Physics 180 (intro to physics for engineers and scientists), and Physics 190 (current topics in physics) for 11 hours of coursework. Each contact hour of class implies another 2 hours of time necessary for studying and doing homework, so that’s 49 hours of university contact time every week. If I don’t see anything to do, it means I’ve lost my glasses.

My goals are to stay on top of the reading/study schedules for each class, and to watch other people silently wash out as I make my next sets of flash cards. I have a pleasant commuting companion in the late Richard Feynman, whose mid-1960s physics lectures I am accumulating on my iPod. He is awesome and funny, and listening to him will help me be able to attack physics from all sides.

Wil Wheaton loves this book, too!

In the background of my regular course reading, I’m almost done with a book on the discovery of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. In contrast to some of the books I read last year, this one is very cleverly written. The author’s asides on the private lives of some of the world’s most esteemed physicists and mathematicians make me want to hole up with a year’s worth of biographies and just read, read, read.

Summer vacation, part 4 of 5

I did get myself a few nice things for my 45th birthday — all additions to my geeky-ass bookshelf.

First and second of all, I searched the Half Price Books website on a whim, looking for the other two volumes of the physics texts I’ll need for Physics 181 in the spring. Did you know they have an online store, listing books from all sorts of locations? I found one for 99 cents (the first edition, but it should do), then searched for “Feynman” and found Volume III of his Lectures on Physics for 99 cents as well (a library discard — shame on them!). Coincidentally, it was printed in July 1966, just the same as my Volume I that I found at a local store for something like 25 or 50 cents. I love getting every volume in the same edition in a set. Look out, Volume II!

Collect them all and get a free set of bongo drums!

I also found a used copy of the other Physics 181 text that was missing, from While I was there I picked up a lovely-looking book, Classic Feynman: All the Adventures of a Curious Character, that is not only a consolidation of two Feynman texts but also includes an audio CD of a talk he gave in 1975 about his time at Los Alamos working on the Manhattan Project.

One more Feynman bio — really two in one.

So yes, I treated myself. I also received a Kindle Fire and was pleased to see that everything I had on Kindle 1 was, magically, already present on Kindle 2. Hello Newton, hello Copernicus; good to see you again. I will try to spend as much time with you as I will with Angry Birds.

Work-wise I’m staying busy at my student job. All chaos broke loose on my missed opportunity for full-time work in terms of it being offered to me again, but since I had already registered for all those classes in the fall and agreed to take on some really interesting projects with my current employer, I decided to stay the current course and gear up for finishing the degree on time rather than in 20 years.

94-year-old college graduate Hazel Soares

Geeky-ass bookshelf, Part Two

I have added several new items to my book collection, and reorganized my bookshelves. Here are the books on my textbook shelf:

  1. The Ideas of Algebra, K-12
  2. College Algebra (Lial and Miller, 1973)
  3. Modern Algebra: An Introduction (Durbin, 1985)
  4. Intermediate Algebra (Clark and Anfinson, 2012) and Student Workbook. Also my folder and notebooks for Math 141.
  5. Precalculus: Mathematics for Calculus (Stewart, Redlin, and Watson, 2007) and Student Solutions Manual. Also my folder and notebooks for Math 152.
  6. Analytic Trignometry with Applications (Barnett, Ziegler, and Byleen, 1999)
  7. Calculus with Analytic Trigonometry: Functions of One Variable (Taylor and Halberg, 1969)
  8. A First Course in Differential Equations with Applications (Zill, 1986)
  9. Foundations of Astronomy (Seeds, 2007), plus my folder and notes for Astronomy 112.
  10. Cosmos (Sagan, 1980)
  11. Comet (Sagan and Druyan, 1989)
  12. A Brief View of Astronomy (Pasachoff, 1986)
  13. Chasing the Shadow: An Observer’s Guide to Eclipses (Harris and Talcott, 1994)
  14. The Binocular Stargazer: A Beginner’s Guide to Exploring the Sky (Peltier, 1995)
  15. Observing for the Fun of It (Melton, 1996)
  16. Chemistry and Chemical Reactivity (Kotz and Purcell, 1987)
  17. Biology: The Unity and Diversity of Life, (Starr and Taggart, 1984)
  18. Fundamentals of Physics (Halladay and Resnick, 1988)
  19. Physics for the Utterly Confused (Oman and Oman, 1999)
  20. Six Ideas that Shaped Physics: Units C, N, R, and T, by Thomas Moore, 2003 (these are the texts for this fall’s Physics 180 [C, N, R] and next spring’s Physics 181 [T; if anyone has units E and Q, give me a call! — Never mind, ordered them from Half Price Books online for, get this, 99 cents each!])
  21. Student Solutions Manual and Study Guide for Physics for Scientists and Engineers with Modern Physics, Volume 2 (Serway and Jewett, 2004) — on the lookout for this textbook, but only for the sake of completeness. [I just looked this up on Amazon — what I bought used for 25 cents you can buy new for $77.]
  22. Schaum’s Outline of Engineering Mechanics: Statics and Dynamics (5th edition, 1998)
  23. Schaum’s Outline of College Physics (6th edition, 1961)
  24. Bonus volume: the 2011 catalog for the Carolina Biological Supply Company.

As noted in a previous post, this list does not include anything from the history of math or science, anything related to Richard Feynman, anything related to time travel, or any science fiction or general-interest math or science. But it probably will be a complete inventory by the end of this summer.

In other news, I was bypassed for the real-person full-time campus job that I took the Office Support Exam testing for, so I’m back to Plan A — at least, I think it’s called Plan A — of being a full-time student with a regular student job in every spare hour. Tomorrow I should be able to make the last payment on my Spring tuition and finally be able to register for the Fall courses I’ve had sitting in my campus shopping cart since early April.

I’m still doing a pre-study of calculus so I won’t be overwhelmed with it in the fall. I need to add a pre-study of physics so I have at least skimmed all three volumes of the text before classes start. The other physics course is a one-hour Topics class that meets only on Fridays, so no preparation is needed. I sat in one it for about half the sessions last fall, just to get the flavor of it. Oh, and there’s also a massive physics lab that will take all of each Wednesday morning. Woo hoo!

It’s pretty busy for me this summer, what with the part-time job and managing the kidlets through their summer school sessions, vacations, and other explorations, but it will be worth it. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean I can’t do it.