Update on Classes

Now that I have entered my third week of classes, I have a somewhat better grasp on what they will actually teach me.

I have dropped the machine tools class. I could not negotiate the final exam time, and it would have meant either staying a week longer in Germany or taking a test jet-lagged at my house.

Multibody Dynamics is proving highly...messy. That really shouldn't surprise me. We are going over kinematics right now, which has partial derivatives, matrices, and sinusoidal functions out the wazoo. If I did not have access to the slides I would never manage to scribble down all the equations in real time.

Basics of Machine and Structure Dynamics seems like MBD's baby brother. It establishes...well...the basics. Creating simplified models, oscillation differential equation set up, etc. I did get to finally scratch a mental itch I've had for years. I was always told that the damping term represented friction and was proportional to velocity. However, dynamic friction between two dry surfaces is constant, not velocity dependent. It turns out that the velocity proportional term represents viscious damping like pneumatic pistons on doors while dry friction requires a different differential equation and creates a different behavior. The world makes slightly more sense to me now!

Electromechanical Drive Systems may be my favorite technical class this semester. I cannot say how many times I have needed/wanted to determine the dimensions of connecting components to produce a specific motion. Now I have some tools in my arsenal to replace the guess-and-check and pseudo-geometry I'd been using.

Technical Textiles intimidates me much less now than it did due to finally getting the script. I love having a text to refer to. Otherwise, my notes are filled with question marks and ellipses that I cannot resolve. Better yet, the professor brought in a whole bunch of example fibers and wires last Friday. I got to break off a piece of gold wire and find out what woven basalt feels like.

Discourse Ethics is going well-ish. I fell into the minority group that actually did the reading for class last week, and the first section made sense for the most part. The second section however...let's just say that the guy's dating profile could read :

"I like long walks on the beach, which it should be noted do not necessarily include sand, nor can sand be excluded, which one might quantify in reference to the lengths of my, or my sources, sentences, meaning that a long walks is validated as long when in the course of the walking and speaking at an ordinary, or more accurately average, speed, I am able to utter all of five sentences, though of course..."

In Intro to Philosophy, we have gone over a few citation rules and then dug into attacking the text we'd read in class. I do so love to poke holes in arguments. Far easier than actually making them..

Progress Report

With the new semester came another dorm-wide meeting to discuss financials, internet, and progress on the apartment building next to ours.

All in all, very little anyone said proved particularly important for me to hear. We confirmed that we are not broke, the internet and printer still work, and the apartment building meant to open in January still needs work. On the other hand, when complete it will have a sauna we might get to use, so that's something.

I found what the speakers said less interesting than how much I understood. I remember the meeting at the beginning of last semester. So much went completely over my head. This time I felt as though I grasped at least 90% of everything when I actually tuned in to listen. I am amazed by how much I have grown and how little I noticed it as it happened.

Random side anecdote: While leaving my "Basics of Machine and Structure Dynamics" class, I saw some people handing out pamphlets. As I passed, someone exclaim "Oh! A woman!" and shoved a pamphlet for a women's job fair into my hands. They seemed so genuinely pleased to have spotted a rare Engineerus Femalicus.

Happy Easter

Easter in Germany is, as far as I have seen, almost exactly like Easter in the United States. Families get together, those with any Christian ties often go to a special service, and chocolate bunnies and Easter Eggs enjoy brief but intense popularity.

One difference, however, comes in working hours. On Good Friday, known as Karfreitag, almost all shops besides bakeries took the day off. Classes were canceled, and public transportation went to a decreased schedule. Saturday, stores held normal hours while servicing considerably more customers. Today, everything closed down again. Then again, I doubt Germany closed down much more than it does every Sunday.

Tomorrow, known as Ostermontag (Easter Monday) counts as a holiday as well. We get an extra day free of classes and an extra day free of groceries. Given that I currently have little more than bread and instant pasta, I look forward to Tuesday all the same.

Flight Booked

I have booked a flight back to the states! I feel so proud of myself for getting this done in a timely fashion. Moreover, it turns out that flying out of Amsterdam costs about the same as flying from Düsseldorf or some other German city. I booked a room in an Amsterdam hostel so that I can finish my stay in Europe with a mini vacation in the Netherlands.

As far as I can tell, the Irish Aer Lingus airline offers the cheapest flights to and from Europe. They charged about $920 for my flight compared to the $1100 lower limit from other airlines. Unfortunately, you may only have one carry on and one 10" x 13" x 8" personal item. Backpacks...are a little bigger than that. According to his Majesty the Internet, the staff may or may not penalize me depending largely on the staff's mood. Checking a second bag costs $100. Regardless, the flight would still cost less than the next cheapest I could find.

First Week

One week in and I have more or less set my classes in stone. Since Wednesday, I have attended two new lectures, Technical Textiles and Introduction to Philosophy, both taught in German.

Textiles should prove quite challenging if the teacher's rapid fire speaking in the tutorial is anything to go by. At the same time, he expected student participation, which made it far easier to stay alert even if I didn't answer anything he asked. Merely attempting to come up with an answer (and how to formulate it in German) kept me more engaged than in purely pulpit style classroom. Alas, I failed to attend the actual lecture offered today. I went to the wrong building, wasted half an hour trying to find a classroom that didn't exist, and finally realized my folly only after getting home to look up it's address again. So...that was embarrassing. On the up side, I have confirmed on the RWTH side of things that I can take the September exam stateside. I just have to figure out who would proctor it.

On a related note, Multi Body Dynamics will allow me to take an oral exam some time in mid to late July. This means that I can drop the class with an August 6th exam date and set about booking a flight back to the US. Hopefully they aren't all too terribly expensive at this point.

As for Introduction to Philosophy, this seminar follows on the heals of a fall course that concerned itself with schools of thought and general history, etc. This class will have more to do with how to read a philosophical paper and write about it. Three rather short writing assignments and active participation comprise the grade. After getting the official details out of the way, the teacher had us take a look at an excerpt from Rudolf Carnap (I was not the only one with no clue who he was.) It was odd having my reading speed set pretty much directly against native speakers. Turns out I'm not all that much slower! That's a comfort.

More on the academic front as it develops.

New Semester

The new semester has begun at last. After the first two days of classes I have a fairly optimistic view of my course line up. Although several classes I wanted to take filled up, I have a fairly good back-up selection.

Multi Body Dynamics: This class explores, shocker, the dynamics of systems with multiple bodies, something rather relevant to robotics. There are German and English offerings of the lecture. I have settled for the English version. My only two options for taking the exam are performing an oral exam while in Germany or taking the test with some proctor in the US in September. Both options seem a lot more doable in my native tongue.

The same professor also teaches Electromechanical Motion Technology. It focuses on electrically powered...moving...thingies. Descriptive, I know. However, seeing how much fun I have trying to design electrically powered moving thingies, I have a good feeling about this.

The next class, whose recitation quite unfortunately conflicts with the previous class's lecture, is all about machine tools meaning machines used to cut, hammer, bend, etc. Hopefully I will not need the material in the recitation too terribly much.

The last of the courses I have visited so far had a bit of humanity to it: Discourse Ethics. In all honesty, I had no idea what that meant. I just knew that it was an introductory level philosophy course and that I enjoyed History of Philosophy in high school. After the first lecture I think that discourse ethics means examining universal rules in language to find a universal basis for ethics rather than subscribing to total moral relativism. Suffice it to say, Nazism made a pretty convincing argument against relativism. I found it interesting how the professor qualified any mention of the Nazi concept of morality. He took great pains to make it clear that he simply meant a system of values with clear rules, regardless of how terrible they were. Hopefully I will get a better grasp of discourse ethics than i have now. It certainly seems worth the effort.