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.

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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…..”

 

That was the week that was

Wow, I packed a lot into one week. In that time I have done four online calculus assignments and one written assignment, and will have a short quiz this afternoon; learned how to compose (and break down, or “de-compose,” I suppose) vectors on paper and with Actual Lab Equipment; and finished the Uncertainty book.

It’s not rocket science. Yet.

In the student job I’ve learned some new procedures for handling the paperwork that we do every day. And at some point in the future, those procedures will change again; and at another point in the future we’ll be moving everything to our new location and hoping everything gets set up properly so we can keep those papers moving.

I was also asked by last semester’s Astronomy professor to be a tutor to one of her students this semester. I think I may have a couple of free hours per week here or there (the current hour being one of them), but I’ll have to see if that aligns with the hours the student is available.

The schedule this semester is definitely heavier, and the content is definitely more challenging, but I do keep telling people, “It’s Week Two and I still want to be a physics major.” Yes, it is challenging material, but it’s very interesting and it inspires me to work hard.

I met the other second-degree Physics major (hi, Nate!)… turns out I’ve been sitting next to him in Introductory Physics. We are two of a kind on the university printout of demographics by degree. We both have the feeling that we have one shot at this and we just need to do our best.

And one funny thing….yesterday I got a call from the Beloit Department of Corrections regarding an open position as a Parole and Probation Officer. It took me half a minute to realize this call came as a result of my scores on the Office Support Test I took in late spring. (I called them back and declined as politely as I could.)

It’s time to do some homework and study up for that calculus quiz. Onward and upward!

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 5 of 5

A mere few weeks remain before the fall term starts on September 4. Ironically, I won’t be able to attend a full day of classes that day and will probably have to miss Calculus class. September 4, in addition to being the first day of school for myself and all my kids, is also the date of the follow-up appointment for my middle son’s ADD/ADHD assessment at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. The actual assessment will be on August 28… September 4 is when I will find out the results. So it’s kind of a big deal. I’ll want to meet with my Calc professor in advance to let her know what’s going on.

I haven’t been able to work this month, as I’ve been busy doing Mom Duty all day. But here and there I’ve been buying notebooks, losing and recovering my student ID, and thinking about buying this year’s parking pass. Haven’t actually purchased it yet, but I am thinking about it. I also had a panicked moment when I thought I had forgotten the combination to my padlock at the Non-Trad Pad… but it turns out that I did still know it.

When I do find spare time, I need to start filling it with physics.

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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 Amazon.com. 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

Summer vacation, part 3 of 5

I just paid off my spring tuition bill, and was able to register for the fall term. I’m taking 11 hours of classes: Physics 180 (5 hours, including a 3 hour lab every Wednesday morning), Physics 190 (1 hour, a topics course held only on Fridays), and Math 253 (5 hours, also known as Calculus I).

In addition to the challenge of the coursework itself (and also in addition to the challenge of working a student job at the same time), I’ll need to build up as much as I can in my savings account now, so I can keep up with the fall payments and be able to register for the spring term on time. There is no room for mistakes here: no failing grades, no missed deadlines, nothing. It’s an academic path that’s as accepting of detours as the rail freight mainline across Montana. Where I’m headed is clear. What’s not known is whether or not the ground will remain stable beneath the tracks. Not everything is built from Rearden Metal.