Archive for the 'School' Category

Is it really FAFSA Time Again Already?

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

Yes, it is. Well, almost. You technically can’t apply until January 1st, but now is the time to start thinking about it and planning ahead. It almost always seems to sneak up on me. I never seem to have the inside track on applying for financial aid… that is, until this year. There is a great free resource for information about applying for the FAFSA online this year. Not only does have information about maximizing your award, but they also have some helpful MP3 guides to help anyone fill out the FAFSA. After you fill out the FAFSA and get it submitted you can get info about student loans and make sure that you know about every opportunity to get money for school. This will be especially important for me this year because I’m transferring to a university, and that means that the price of schooling is really going up for me this year.

Disparate Class Difficulty Levels

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

I have three programming classes right now. One of them is actually a class about computer history and structure. My 160 class has tons of homework and takes me hours to finish even though the material is all stuff that I already know. My 221 class is data structures and algorithms using Java and I’m learning Java as I go, so that’s a fun class. The only homework is a program due every two to three weeks. My 222 class is Assembler Language using i386. I thought it would be a pretty difficult class. The biweekly homework assignment is to read and then answer 4 questions then do a super-simple program that takes about 10 lines of code and 30 minutes to work through. So, what I’m wondering is: why is my intro class (where I’m not learning) more difficult than the more advanced classes where I am learning? Maybe it’s all in how you rate difficulty. I think the concepts learned are less advanced in the 160 class and probably anyone who was willing to do the work would get an A. You could get lost in the 221 and 222 classes and not even know where to begin, I guess.

I still think more work is harder than more advanced concepts, though.

What? No Bugs?

Friday, October 13th, 2006

I just finished up a programming assignment for my Data Structures and Algorithm Development class simulating a CPU and a preemptive real-time operating system’s handling of jobs. It was relatively complex so I expected there to be a bug or two to track down when I thought I was finished coding. When I finished the last function and ran the program the output was right on! Usually I have to spend an hour tying to figure out what’s throwing the whole thing off, but not this time. What a relief. I didn’t expect to be done last night, but there I was, done.

A Whole Day of Programming

Thursday, October 5th, 2006

I have a relatively complicated assignment that I’m working on for the next couple of weeks. It’s like building a large brick wall. You can’t really rush it. But it’s like a brick wall where each brick you lay has the potential to mess up the rest of the wall. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s a little bit tedious at this point. It will be more interesting when it gets closer to being done and it starts to pay off.

Swarming Anti-Mormon Bees

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

Keep Out! Swarming Bees SignI parked in the Institute parking lot this morning like I always do. On my way back to the parking lot at around 4:40pm I was greeted with caution tape completely barring access to the section of the road that the gate leading to the Institute is on. On top of that the gate was closed and locked with even more caution tape on it. There were lookouts all around the perimeter ensuring that no one would enter the swarming bees zone. It was hard to take the signs seriously as they were made using Comic Sans MS. It looked all whimsical when it was supposed to be stern. I don’t have any direct evidence that there were any bees, but they sure did make me mad. I had to walk an extra half-mile to get around the bee warning area. It was huge. I can understand that they want people to be safe, but I think that the measures they took were a little extreme. I think some large signs warning of danger would have been enough. If I want to take the chance of running into some bees then that should be my prerogative.

I was planning on going to Costco to get some of their really inexpensive pairs of jeans, so I was on my way to the car about thirty minutes earlier than I needed to be to go pick up Krissy, so at least I had that going for me. I wasn’t all that upset, really. If I had gone out there with just enough time to pick her up, though, and had run into the cordoned-off road and gate with no time to spare I would have been positively angry. As it was, I was afforded a nice walk, even though the sun was a bit warmer than I would have liked.

When I got to my car there was a prospective Institute student who was wondering when the Institute would be open so he could sign up. We had a nice chat and I was off to get Krissy. I was way early picking her up, but I didn’t have enough time to go and do anything else, either.

Oh well, here’s a nice picture to reward you for reading so much.

Entrance to the San Marcos Institute of Religion

Textbooks: The Mercedes of Books

Monday, August 21st, 2006

A new school year means another round of insanely overpriced textbook purchasing. I’m not buying textbooks; I’m purchasing them. This is in the same sense that one does not merely buy a Mercedes; one purchases a Mercedes. Textbooks are like the Mercedes of books. They cost more than most books even though they don’t really do anything more than other books do. They are in such high demand that people are willing to buy certified pre-owned textbooks and textbook dealerships are willing to take old textbooks as trade-ins against the price of new textbook purchases.

Used book sales generally don’t bring the publisher any profit, thus they discourage these sales with the following tactic. Textbook writers and publishers frequently jumble up material from previous editions, slap on a new forward and book cover and call it a new edition. Professors then frequently require the newest edition of the textbook and the market value of the older editions drops to less than ten percent of the original purchase price. Students then recoup little to none of the cost of books that they no longer want or need. New students must purchase brand new books at higher prices than used books. Why would professors do this though? Many professors are textbook writers or plan to be in the future. Some are given incentives by textbook publishers with the understanding that they will help out the publisher whenever a new edition is published.

More Professors are beginning to feel compassion for their students and are allowing them to use older editions of the required text. I have done this for a few classes with great success and huge financial savings. This proves the point that new editions are not usually required even when professors artificially make them so.

I have a class that requires a textbook costing ninety dollars used at the campus bookstore (textbook dealership). Used books are always a gamble, so I like to limit my risk by shopping around to get the best deal. The class requires the textbook beginning on Wednesday. The bookstore accepts returns for a couple weeks. I found the book for sale at for forty dollars. On top of all of this the first chapter is available for free to download from the publisher. It’s a bit of a juggling act, but when money matters sometimes it pays to use your brain. Besides, aren’t critical thinking and problem solving among the skills college students are expected to develop.

If this whole textbook ordeal is just another test, I’d like to think that I am passing.

Graphing Logarithms using the Ace of Base Formula?

Monday, July 10th, 2006

Well, no, not really. But I did have “It’s a Beautiful Life” inexplicably stuck in my head in class today; inexplicable, that is, until I realized that the words “Change of Base” were being bandied about all day. (If you want to know what the change of base formula is you can click here, but be careful because following this link may cause blood to shoot out of your eyeballs. Thankfully Wikipedia comes to the rescue with a concise and non-ugly presentation of the change of base formula.) But there are more important things to consider about my Algebra class.

We took a test on Friday and nearly three quarters of the class did not finish the test. We got our tests back and the mean score was somewhere near 50%. How could so many students be struggling to the point of failure? Consider this sample from my test.

Example of overly strict grading

I got every part of the answer right. The table is correct. The graph is correct. I failed to show how that (1/3)-2 is equivalent to 32. But the next step was performed properly. Such a simple calculation as taking the reciprocal and squaring it is an autopilot operation to me. I tried my best to meet the draconian “show all work” requirements set by my teacher, but according to her I skipped a step. I guess I skipped it twice, so that’s why I lost two points for a correct answer. Okay, let’s take a look at the next problem.

Example of overly strict grading

How? Maybe I followed the directions and used my calculator’s graphing functionality? And insects? I leave off the word “insects” on a math test and I lose 2 points? What the heck!? And these were the questions I got right!

With grading like this I shouldn’t be surprised that I need to get 88% on the rest of the quizzes and tests in the class just to pass. I’m tempted to go drop the class, but I switched the grading to credit/no credit a couple weeks ago, so I guess I ought to just finish it up and give it my best shot. At least it will help me when I take the class again. Oh, and there were some people that learned today that no matter what they do they can no longer pass the class. They seemed really happy about their plight as they grabbed their belongings and stormed out of the class. I wonder how many people will end up passing. I’m guessing less than one quarter of those that started.

Do Cheaters Ever Prosper… In Algebra?

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

I’m taking an Algebra class this summer. Six weeks ends up being a really short period of time when a math class is involved. I took Physical Anthropology in 12 days, and that was no problem, but math is a different story.

Today I had this jock sit right next to me. I had noticed this because the previous class periods he had always sat two rows in front of me, right next to a group of people that look like they might be pretty good at this math stuff. A couple days ago I heard him comment that he had expected me to challenge the instructor’s teaching style rather than the girl who ended up challenging the teacher. His motives were soon made clear when he told me that he had cheated on the math placement test so he could get into this college level algebra class. He made it obvious that he was only in college to play baseball. During the quiz the teacher left the room for a few minutes and he tried to see what was written on my paper. After the quiz he said that he thought we had the same kind of calculator. I doubted him because almost no one has the TI-85 in college algebra classes. I asked to see his calculator to check the model number. Even though we all knew that it would be needed on the quiz, he said he had left his calculator in the car and that it didn’t matter because he didn’t know how to use it anyway.

Later on it seemed that he had realized that I wouldn’t prove to be the exceptional math student (and source of correct test answers) he had suspected I would be. He started looking around and asking people who the really smart people in the class were. We have our first big test in class tomorrow and he’s just trying to figure out who might let him cheat!

Cheaters never prosper, or so I’ve heard. I can’t help but wonder what this guy is like on the baseball diamond. If he cheats this wantonly on tests and in class I can’t imagine him having anything against such dishonesty in other matters in his life including baseball. I don’t know why, but something tells me that he’s not going to learn much in this class. If he passes and I don’t, I’m going to be really upset.

Graphing Calculators Cause Contention

Friday, June 23rd, 2006

Today, after we got back our quizzes in my six-week long algebra class, one student raised her hand and asked if it were okay to not have used a graphing calculator on one of the questions that asked that one be used and then consulted to draw an estimate of what the graph of a particular function should look like since she did not have one yet because the instructor said on the first day of class that one would not be required until the second week of class. The instructor paused for a moment and said that it was indeed not acceptable and that she needed to have used one for full credit. The whole class seemed quite taken aback. Most instructors would have realized their mistake and awarded credit for requiring something she had previously stated was not required. I took a four-week class that ended just last week and the professor would go through the tests while the students were taking it and tell us the answers to the questions that were not addressed in lectures or our reading materials. Why, after all, should students suffer for the mistakes of their professors?

The rest of the class period was rather tense and uncomfortable. I could feel the loss of respect in the classroom. We all had this feeling like we weren’t being dealt with fairly. Each of us had become that poor girl in the front row. Now, as it turns out, that “poor girl” turned out to be rather bold and obnoxious, but none of us could really blame her. After all, we didn’t respect the teacher anymore. The wronged girl raised her hand a number of times questioning the teacher’s judgment and she did so with an indignant accusatory tone that made each of us in the class feel even more uncomfortable as the teacher then fought for her ideas openly. One such idea was that we should be using the calculator so much for what the girl thought were trivially easy tasks.

I propose the following as the first Article of Fairness in Academics:

Students will be marked down for their own mistakes and not for their teachers’ negligence.

Palomar College’s Mysterious Ecosystem

Tuesday, June 13th, 2006

I usually have my camera with me. I’ve heard it said that if you don’t have a camera with you, then you aren’t a photographer. Between classes and during breaks at school I like to relax by walking around and taking pictures of interesting things or trying out new photography techniques. Today I happened upon two interesting things that were together. I have probably walked by these at least a hundred times, but today they stood out.

The first thing that caught my eye were these flowers. I know nothing about flowers or plants. I can never remember anything about plants and they all tend to look pretty much the same to me. These flowers though were amazing. Maybe it was just the way the sun was shining on them, but I had to have a picture. When I went in for some really close macro shots I was greeted with mysterious fascinating living thing number two for the day. Sitting atop the flower I wanted to photograph was a tiny insect. Insects are usually wary and fast making them very difficult to photograph without very expensive equipment, but this guy just sat there and let me take picture after picture from different angles all at less than three inches! I thought this was all quite a nice accident to have found him on the one perfect flower that I wanted pictures of. After I started looking at the other flowers more closely, however, I saw this same type of insect on almost every one of these flowers in the area. Most of the other ones hopped off the flowers when I came close, though.

I know less about bugs than I do about plants, so I wouldn’t even know where to begin in identifying him. I would be interested to know more about both of these. They seem to go together, but that might have indeed been a coincidence.

Unknown Type of Flower found at Palomar College

Unknown Type of Insect found at Palomar College

Unknown Type of Insect found at Palomar College