Archive for July, 2007

Dear Sweet Jesus….

So, somehow, I’ve made it through two tests in pre-calculus. Let’s just say that it is unlikely that I will get an “A” in this class, but a “B” is still in the cards. Failing is looking somewhat more remote, but remains a possibility. A review of our test this morning reveals that I have the basic concepts firmly under control, but the details are bedeviling. For example, asked to find “all exact zeros” in a polynomial, I perfectly executed the determination of possible rational zeros, using my new best friend, the TI-86 calculator, selected my zero, and divided the factor into the polynomial. That yielded another polynomial, which I used to solve for “x” by plugging values into the quadratic equation. I got an answer that included a rational and two irrational numbers. Looked good, so I moved on. Only thing is that I reversed the sign of the constant in the second polynomial. You college grads will know what that means. The professor grudgingly gave me one point out of six for the process. Disaster jerked from the jaws of success.

But all that is, as they say, but a distant memory. I will revisit my old friends next week for the Final, but for now, it is on to trigonometric functions, a subject that I have never seen, never been taught, don’t understand the concept of, and, which,according to my professor, will be the most difficult part of the course.

Does anybody have a gun?

An Audobon Moment or Life is Short, Brutish, and Hard

Enroute to the chamber of horrors otherwise known as pre-calculus, not-ready for our second test of the session but reconciled with my fate, I happened upon a recently dead pigeon. The carcass lay in a bed of its own feathers, like some sort of modern presentation of pigeon tartare, carefully placed in a location sure to attract maximum attention from the morning promenade of students moving to class from the land of nod.

At first, I took the particular placement and arrangement as some other pre-calculus student’s imprecation, voodoo like, about the state of affairs. It is, after all, very unusual to see the random display of the natural world’s dark side about the bucolic, but urban, campus. The only dogs I see are fellow students, as in: “what’s up, Dog”, and we are graced with a significant feline presence, constantly purring and rubbing, but with the usual disdain at the end. There are some of the porcine persuasion, a few of whom are clearly feral, and I have encountered a snake or two. But real live nature? More rarely seen even than students of my age, who mostly move around at night or on the edge of the campus, seeking cover at every opportunity.

Loitering at the scene, unwilling to enter the classroom and endure the blather of other, even more confused students, I took station a short distance away and tried to clear my mind, in the hope that some kind of enlightenment about the use of the natural log in solving equations of x would enter my being and become a central part of my essence.

Alas, the entrance to Nirvana remained closed, and I turned my attention to the outer world. In a random movement of eyes and head, unlike the instinct of my simian brothers, with whom I grow closer with every passing class, I looked up. There, perched on a tree providing cover to the belvedere, sat a ginormous hawk! Apart from being buzzed by furious mocking birds, it sat absolutely still, with its raptorian visage focused intently on the breakfast that had been interrupted. One might even say that it looked a little peeved.

All became clear. A part of nature not normally seen, the feeding ritual, had taken place in our small nature preserve. A creature near the top of the food chain had dined on a member of some lower level in the hierarchy of existence and needs. A raptor had killed a pigeon. Life continued, each with its role fulfilled.

With that powerful thought, I marched into the classroom and sat down for my test.

Whoa, Nellie!

Let’s just stipulate for the record that taking a 4 hour class, during summer school, is not for the faint-hearted. Of course, I understood the challenge, objectively, and comforted my self with confident little murmurs of encouragement, saying affirmations to improve my self-confidence and mental attitude, ALL BEFORE PRE-CALCULUS STARTED! What a boob I was, thinking that I could motivate my way through a class that our professor calls a “gatekeeper class” for all us so-called science majors. I would prefer, now, to use a more accurate term to describe the class – we are being culled, like so many excess yearling bucks in the ever growing herd of domestic deer. Yes, the herd has thinned noticeably in the first two weeks, and the survivors look like those brave souls enduring Hell Week in a SEAL training program. We are gaunt, confused, exhausted, and running on fumes. (There are, naturally, some savants who are gliding through this exercise on their way to double majors in Bio-Chemistry and Genetics, but, like God, we mortals are not aware of their earthly existence. Why are they in this course but for a little practice and to blow the curve for the rest of us).

The material is not difficult to understand, but the detail and complexity are killers. When the old pressure starts to boil, this tired brain loses what little flexibility it possesses, and stupid, careless errors ensue.

This is a fair test for the next level, dammit!

The Hard Stuff

Up to this point in the return to college, the academic work has consisted of general requirements or reviews of material to refresh my aged brain about the intricacies of mathematics. Less understood at the outset, but now perceived as just as important, was the social work, or the development of a college “mindset”, which I would describe as 1) establishing a comfort level in this new environment, 2) acquiring the ability to understand what each professor wants from the best students, and 3) developing a strong confidence in my abilities as a student.

The development of these two aspects has gotten me to this point. I have a good GPA. I have demonstrated to the administration and myself that I can handle the “introductory” level of the work. I can never be a “student”, in the traditional sense, but I can be a part of the college world. I belong.

Summer II will test my ability to handle a slightly higher level of mathematics (pre-calculus). I am trying to excel in a course that carries 4 hours of credit (which means the workload and class time is heavy). When I discussed taking this class in summer, a high level math faculty member very casually mentioned to me that, for people in my major, this class in summer should not be a major challenge.

So, this is the next test. If this class turns out to be more than I can handle, then maybe I should not be in the major that I have committed myself to. Failure modifies the goals, substantially.

Failure is not an option.

“Life’s hard, son. It’s harder when you’re stupid.” — The Duke.

Education is a companion which no misfortune can depress, no crime can destroy, no enemy can alienate,no despotism can enslave. At home, a friend, abroad, an introduction, in solitude a solace and in society an ornament.It chastens vice, it guides virtue, it gives at once grace and government to genius. Without it, what is man? A splendid slave, a reasoning savage. - Joseph Addison
The term informavore (also spelled informivore) characterizes an organism that consumes information. It is meant to be a description of human behavior in modern information society, in comparison to omnivore, as a description of humans consuming food. George A. Miller [1] coined the term in 1983 as an analogy to how organisms survive by consuming negative entropy (as suggested by Erwin Schrödinger [2]). Miller states, "Just as the body survives by ingesting negative entropy, so the mind survives by ingesting information. In a very general sense, all higher organisms are informavores." - Wikipedia

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