Archive for August, 2011

Back to School

22 August 2011 at 10:34 pm
by Berck

First day back to school, but Mom didn’t insist on a picture in the front yard before I headed out. (Do all mothers do this, or was this just a quirk of my own?)

We had couch surfers last night, Damien & Mary from Leeds. They only stayed one night, but we had fun anyway. They were extraordinarily grateful for dinner and a place to sleep, and were good company. They claimed to like my beer (even the questionable stuff), and made a good show of enjoying dinner.

My first class was at 12:15, and the couch surfers enjoyed a lazy morning planning their day and sipping tea. They mentioned that we’re the first Americans they’ve stayed with that actually had proper tea, which made me happy. They left about the same time I did.

It was miserably hot today (okay, high 80s, but I’m easily made miserable), and the ride to school in full gear in the heat just isn’t fun. The parking garage was baracaded to entry with police officers telling people it was full and that they’d have to park and ride the bus. It must be a good feeling to be told you have to ride the bus after spending $300 on a parking permit. I managed to work my way around the cars, and thread my way between a police officer and a barricade to get into the garage. The motorcycle parking on the entry level was full, but there was space on the level below.

Despite the nonsense, I still had plenty of time which I’d allowed because my first class was in the building with all the other humanities classes, so I don’t know it terribly well. I found the classroom without too much trouble. My first class was Advanced Grammar. I know. I could hardly believe it myself, but UCCS has some extraordinarily absurd policies about a “Writing Portfolio”.

In order to graduate, one must submit 2 papers, each a minimum of 4 pages in length. The papers must have been written at UCCS. If a student does not pass the writing portfolio, he must take and pass a 3000-level or higher composition course. A course that is otherwise not required for the degree. Since I’ve taken all the humanities classes I needed to take at UD, I have no papers to submit. I will have to write a substantial paper for the “Computing Ethics” class I have to take next semester, but that’s not until next semester, and it’s only one paper. It’s likely the only paper I’ll have to write. So, I was told that I would have no choice but to take the additional class. I looked at the available classes, and picked the least-miserable sounding class that worked with my schedule which turned out to be Advanced Grammar.

When the classroom emptied and I walked in, I was astonished. I should have taken a picture. The room was probably the tiniest classroom I’ve ever seen, and it was packed full of desks. The sort of desks I haven’t sat in since elementary school. They were clearly designed for children, not adults. I couldn’t fit into mine, and the 3 desks at the front of the classroom were taken. I sat with my legs in the aisle and was astonished at how it felt like I had been forced to return to elementary school.

As I looked around, I noticed that I was surrounded by girls. Eventually, another guy came in and sat down next to me. He was in my C++ last semester, and was taking the class for the same reason I was. The rest of the class was full of girls. English major girls.

The elementary school sensation was not eased by the professor, an older woman that reminded me of my elementary school teachers. The first thing she asked us to do was, “take out a sheet of paper and write the answers to the following questions…” I started looking around to make sure this wasn’t some ridiculous joke. No one else seemed to think it was.

The questions were things like “What do you expect from this class? What are your goals in this class? Why are you taking this class?” I was the last to finish mine. I wrote a bit of a rant about how I hoped the class’s scope extended beyond prescriptivist nonsense (I’m always one to make friends with teachers the first day), and explained that I was taking the class in order to fulfill the writing portfolio requirement. (I apparently misspelled fulfill. Damn.) I turned mine in, it went on the top of the stack, and the elementary school nonsense got worse.

“Okay, everyone move your desks around, form groups, and go over the syllabus together!” the professor requested. Seriously? I sat by myself and looked at the guy next to me. I told him we’d be a group of two, but 3 girls in front of us said we could join their group. So we did. We introduced ourselves and started talking about the syllabus.

The teacher came as close as she could to me in the crowded classroom and said, “Are you Berck?” “Yes?” “Come with me a second,” and she motioned me out of the classroom.

Wow. I was being called into the hall already! She had the stack of papers in her hand, and had clearly just read mine. I braced myself for a “you need to have a positive attitude” speech. Instead, she said, “Advanced grammar won’t meet the writing portfolio requirement.”

I explained that the catalog said it would. She said that I was probably confused with similar course numbers, as there was a composition class with a similar number and people had been getting them confused. I tried to find the requirement on the UCCS website with my MacBook, but all the pages Google pointed to were now gone. She told me to go talk to the writing portfolio office on the bottom floor. I made her repeat the directions to the office 4 times. They were horribly vague, and I had no idea what she was talking about. I also mentioned that the other guy in the class was in there for the same reason, so she should tell him.

I got lost just trying to find the staircase I’d gone up. After eventually winding back up where I’d started, the other guy in the class was walking toward me. He at least pointed me to the stairs, and I was able to find the writing portfolio office by trial and error without too much trouble.

The two women in the closet-sized office said there was no way that Advanced Grammar would qualify for the requirement. I went ahead and explained my situation and asked what I should do. They said that policies had changed, and I could submit 1 transfer paper and 1 UCCS paper. That still didn’t really help because I had zero UCCS papers to submit. They gave me the paperwork on the alternative class I could take, and told me to talk to a professor in charge of the portfolio thing and gave me her email address. Since I know that professors in those sorts of positions are sometimes not very good about returning email, I asked if they knew what her office hours were. They didn’t, but told me where her office was and suggested that the hours might be posted on her door.

I set off and was astounded to find her in her office. I explained my predicament, and to my astonishment, she said she would accept 2 transfer papers.

I’m still tittering and twitching. I’m not really sure I believe this is going to work out. I immediately hopped back on my motorcycle and went home, hoping to find UD papers.

I first searched through all the old files on my computer and found nothing. This didn’t surprise me, as I have almost no files before 1998, and sparse files before 2000. I was using a 486 with Linux installed through most of time at UD. I wrote my papers in WordPerfect for Linux, and I would have thought I’d still have them, but I don’t. Or can’t find them.

So I went out to the closet on the porch and hauled out my giant box of paper that I’ve decided to keep over the years. I spent half an hour paging through it and came up with dozens of papers from UD, but very few of them were over 4 pages. 3 pages seemed to be the typical length, and all the longer ones were answers to multi-question exams, which didn’t really fit the definition of a single paper. Fortunately, there were two decent papers. They wanted me to submit a clean copy, and I lucked out. The Dante one had been revised once and resubmitted, so the revised copy had no marks on it from the professor, and his comments and the grade (B+) were written on a cover page. The other was for Dr. Paynter who had Parkinson’s disease and thankfully wrote almost no comments on papers, because no one could read them anyway.

So, I’ve dropped the grammar class (woohooo!) and plan to submit the papers tomorrow. I should find out in a few weeks they pass muster. They’re hardly my best work, but they’re certainly sufficient for this requirement.

I couldn’t find a lot of the papers that I’ve written. I’m not sure why. I know I had to write some fairly lengthy papers (I found several syllabuses that mentioned 10 page papers), but I can’t find any of them. Sad. On the other hand, who knew I’d need them.

My other classes for the day were Programming Langauges, taught by an older guy who thinks COBOL is awesome (seriously!), and Algorithms. Programming Languages looks like a lot of fun. The major project for the class involves writing the same program in 5 different languages: Prolog, FORTRAN, Scheme, COBOL and ADA. That sounds fun, because I’d love to play with different ancient languages, but i’m not likely to do so on my own. Algorithms is going to be tough and awfully mathematical. It’s cross-listed as a graduate level class, and the professor assured us it would be a difficult class. I’m not sure I’ll enjoy it, but it’ll be good for me.

Tomorrow I have Statistics, Operating Systems, and “Computability, Automata and Formal Languages”, which is an intense name for a class.

So, I’m down to 15 hours! It’s not going to be an easy semester, but now it actually seems doable. I’m going to double-check and make sure there’s not a CS elective I can take to better my chances of graduating next semester.