Up All Night

I finally went to sleep around 6:30 this morning. It was test/quiz night for Mississippi State and, as always, I waited until the last minute.

This is so thoroughly ingrained in me. If there was one thing I could change, this might be it – my Achilles heel – the terrible habit I have of putting things off. I don’t blow them off, because I’ve made every assignment on time. I’m just never early.

OK – There was a time, a few weeks ago when we were going to California, that I finished my assignments a week early because I was unsure if I could do them on the road. Even then, I waited until the last possible moment the night before we left.

Last night’s big test was in Thermodynamics – the toughest course I’ve ever taken. It was a ‘homework test.’ That means the test questions were a subset of the homework. Do the homework and fill in that answer when it comes up on the test… if it’s on the test.

Early on I could just do the homework as I took the test, and as the clock ticked. These courses demand a little more work.

A large part of last night’s work dealt with Skew-t charts. These are oddball graphs used to visualize the atmosphere above a specific place at a single time. Click here if you’re geeky enough to see an example!

As part of my course material this year I was required to buy a giant plastic Skew-t chart. It came shipped in a cylindrical container. Even now I still have to tape it to the table to keep it from curling up during use. I write on it with erasable markers.

I watched the lectures and thought I knew what to do. But, when I came to the first question, I looked at the Skew-t with that quizzical, head slightly cocked look a dog gives when it’s unsure what to do.

Finally, after hours, I got the hang of it. I suppose that’s the goal of the course.

Here’s the problem. I will use this Skew-t chart as often as my pharmacist grinds his own medicines with a morter and pestle! Sure, I use Skew-t’s, and will continue to use them, but they’re computer generated – and much faster and better than I could ever do it.

This is a recurring theme of my higher education. Much of what we do, or learn, is only important to academicians. There is little practical purpose, or the practical purpose has been trumped by technology.

There’s another thing I’ve noticed. It is nearly impossible for school to keep up with the advancements of the ‘real’ world. We are being taught about some technologies and techniques that have become outmoded. These changes only happened in the last few years, but students leaving my school will be surprised that some of what they learned is old news, even as they’re walking out the door.

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