Monday, October 5, 2020

E-Dorm Life- Shared Classes

Our college group was the Juggling Club gang and we all had different majors.  I was Mechanical Engineering, Brian was Aeronautical Engineering, Randy was Electrical Engineering, Scott was Business, and Jesse was Computer Science.  We often joked we could all join together after we graduated and form a company.

Leave it to Jesse to actually pull that one off.

Because of the differences in focus and coming in with various levels of AP credit, we were almost never in any classes together from the start of the RPI experience. First semester Freshman year, I think all of us were in Chemistry One.  However, we hadn't congealed into a group yet.  Plus, since nearly everyone took that course there was more than one section, and only some of us were in the massive lectures together, and I’m not sure if any of us were in the same, small, contact hours classes.

No one had any idea what we were doing in chemistry anyway.  The only way the whole dorm floor got through finals is everyone crammed into Harish and Atul’s room. Each of us knew how to do exactly one kind of chemistry problem really well. We spent the night going round robin with everyone else, passing on our specialty and gaining theirs.

That is, except for Joe.  
Joe stuck his head in the room, asked, “PV equals nRT right?”
We all stared blearily at him and answered as a group, “Um…yeah?”
“Right!” exclaimed Joe, “I’m going downtown!”
I probably don’t need to mention that Joe did not return for the second half of the first year of our RPI experience.

By the time we reached the E-Dorms I only shared a couple of classes with anyone I hung around with, usually in the humanities and social sciences area.

This does not count when Jesse was taking an Artificial Intelligence Computer Science course at the same time I was taking a Symbolic Logic humanities (Philosophy) elective. They were both taught by the same professor and covered highly similar material, but in nearly opposite order. This meant that by half way through the semester, I could easily do his homework, and he could easily do mine, leading to constant questions across the bowling alley room for confirmation.

Aside- That professor would occasionally have to bring his small daughter to class.  In a high level Artificial Intelligence seminar Jesse attended, the professor was going into details about some big project of his, and the whole room ignored him to listen to his child state, 
"Elmo is red...Grover is not red."  

When she was coloring in my class he was building through a massive proof, as he got more and more into it, he got more excited.  Driving towards the conclusion, he reached his peak, 
"And therefore we prove..."
All eleventy zillion of her crayons fell off the desk and scattered across the room.  He stopped proofing, took a deep breath and said, "Excuse me a moment," before gathering them up.

Phil (a fellow juggler and Mechanical Engineer a year behind me) and I ended up in Human Factors in Design together, a social science course. Our final project was ergonomically designed juggling equipment.  Since many beginners started with the rock hard Jugglebug clubs that are lethal after a spin and a half, anything we came up with was an improvement.

Brian and I shared a World War Two social science class that was the greatest example of build up to disappointment I encountered in my college career.  I saw the listing for the course when I went to RPI for an early information session and tour back in high school, and I was a huge buff of that portion of history. This was before I learned school covered the most boring parts and I became a huge buff of all portions of history.  The class was only offered periodically and I checked for it each semester. Finally, it was on the course sheet for the end of my Junior year. 

Most sane classes were spaced out in three fifty minute sessions, or two eighty-five minute sessions per week.  World War II met once a week on Wednesday evenings for nearly three hours straight.  Brian was as excited as I was about this one and we both signed up.  Since it was the same night juggling club normally met, we tried moving the weekday club meeting, and ran into conflicts with the fencing club, the judo club, and pretty much every other on-campus organization with members dedicated to injuring people.

However, Brian and I finally got to take the course we had waited for.  We learned two things almost immediately.

a) The reason the class was only offered occasionally was the same reason it met all at once, the instructor had a full time job elsewhere and had to schedule his time to be there for the class.

b) The reason this man did not make a living as a full time educator was he was the driest human being on the planet.

The most interesting days in the class would be when he showed us vintage documentaries, that I had already watched late at night on “Arts and Entertainment” and “The Learning Channel” back in the days before their names were sadly ironic.

Most of the time, he would drone at us for the entire three hours. His only visual aids were when he needed maps. He would sketch them poorly on the blackboard.  I’m certain classes entering the room the next morning believed a demented biology professor was there overnight feverishly trying to illustrate amoeba mating rituals.

One day, I nearly got in trouble for laughing hysterically and falling out of my chair.  This was Brian’s fault.  The instructor was in a rare form of dullness, even for him, as the night ground by.

I looked to my left occasionally and saw Brian steadfastly writing the whole time.  When I finally looked around his arm, directly at his notebook to see what he could possibly value as notes, I saw he’d filled an entire page with:

“yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah…”

Insult was added to injury, when I turned in my final paper, reviewing pro and con points for the commanders not following Patton’s suggestions. The initial feedback from the Teaching Assistant told me to remove the transition section and set it up as two separate arguments.

I revised it based on his comments, and on the last day of the semester, after final grades had been filed, I got my paper back with a chunk of points taken off for having no transition section.


The social science class Brian, Jesse and I all took together was a far more enlightening and enjoyable experience.  

Look!  A transition! Can I have my points back now?  

I’m not still bitter…really.

This class was the most elective of electives called, “Science, Pseudo Science and Popular Culture”

Or as we called it, “Bigfoot, Ghosts and UFOs.”

Professor Hess didn’t remain an extended time with the straight-laced gang at RPI, moving along at some point after we’d graduated, but he was fun while he was there. 

Clearly, the point of the class was to demonstrate the importance of proper scientific method, data integrity, peer review, and avoiding logical and statistical fallacies.

In fact, Jesse cemented himself as teacher’s pet in one of the first classes by stating, 
“There’s no science and pseudo-science, 
there's just good science and bad science.”

Professor Hess would quote this line and point knowingly to Jesse at least once a class for the rest of the term.

The lectures themselves were magnificent, because the case studies were every crazy theory we’d ever heard of and then some. We read and refuted Carlos Castaneda, Erich von Daniken, The Rhines, plus a host of haunted houses, psychic phenomena, cryptozoology, alien encounters and so forth.

We were playing Illuminatus Trilogy the home game!

The discussions were some of the most entertaining moments in our education history. A large part of this was because of Lisa. While a fair amount of students had second or third hand knowledge of the items we covered, Lisa was her own category.  Every single solitary thing we talked about, whether it be ghosts, mind reading, aliens, premonitions, witchcraft, or possibly the Loch Ness Monster, either Lisa or a member of her immediate family had experienced it first-hand.

During one of her epic examples, Jesse almost got me in the same amount of trouble as Brian’s “yeah yeah yeah’s” did.  He was scribbling away in his notebook and passed over a diagram.

On one margin was a radiating circle labeled “The Sun.” Other circles and dots were indicated by labels across the page, “Mercury,” “Venus,” “Earth,” “Mars,” “asteroid belt,” “Jupiter,” “Saturn,” “Uranus,” “Pluto,” (closer to the sun before 1999 and still a planet then) “Neptune,” *large space here* “Oort Cloud,” *even larger space before a wrinkly mass at the far edge of the other margin* 
“Lisa’s brain.”

Aside:  After I finished all of the dinosaur books, I read every single one (of the surprisingly large amount for suburban New Jersey) of the books the grammar school library had on UFOs, cryptozoology, hauntings, and ESP.  With all the technological advancements, there was no new evidence between those readings and when we took this class.  (Lisa's stories excepted, naturally.)  Not only has there been further "no new evidence" between the class time and now, but some of the most famous "evidence" from my childhood readings have been admitted as frauds.  Honestly, I feel kind of betrayed. Yet most of the channels that used to show the documentaries we watched in World War Two class have several shows with mediums using techniques that were old when Houdini debunked them over a hundred years ago, bilking grieving individuals out of their funds.  Grrrrrrrr.

Besides the twice-weekly hilarity, the class had one hugely positive effect.  Shortly before we had to present final paper topics, I stumbled upon an “UFOs in the Bible” book in a weird little coffee shop we occasionally hung out in downtown. I think it was the Last Exit Cafe.  A quick search indicated it closed right after we graduated.  I guess we went there more often than occasionally.

I borrowed the book, read it, and decided it would be a central point for my final paper. During my “presentation” to use yet another term loosely, the class's and Professor Hess’s questions made me realize that I truly had no idea what the central theme I was going to write about was.  Working excessively before the next class session when the written form was due, I rearranged it into, “UFO Enthusiasts use their beliefs as a secular substitute for religion in modern times.”

That paper, I ended up acing. I’m kind of sorry it only exists on an ancient self-contained word processor, nearly impossible to access, as it’s exactly the kind of lunatic ramblings that characterize most of my writing.

I was happy to hear my daughter was being taught how to define a good topic sentence early in grammar school, rather than waiting to be grilled by a room full of psychic enthusiasts, haunted house believers, and Lisa.


longbow said...

I think I was still there when you guys took Bigfoot class because I remember hearing about it. Jesse and I took assembler language programming together sophomore year (for my CS minor)

Jeff McGinley said...

I thought it was senior year. maybe it was earlier. We did keep in touch so who knows. Any wildly funny assembler stories? I'll put them in the sequel.
Thanx for reading!

longbow said...

Just that I did and submitted an assignment. Jesse was slammed with something else and started his after dinner when it was due at midnight. We both are very ethical about things like this so he asked me a few questions and I answered what I thought was okay to share: syntactical things that would save time but still require him to display all the knowledge and problem solving intended. He submitted at like 11:59pm. I got mid-90s and he got 99, per usual.

Penny and her friend were also in the class.

Jeff McGinley said...

Oh yeah. I remember Penny, and not her friend's name. The bucket is leaking.

That's about right for Jesse's work. I'll have to write up the tale of the middle school "paper film" sometime.