Class-time purgatory

There are two things you should know about me: I am not a good person, and I hate being bored or having my time wasted. Those two things combined pretty much say everything you might need to know about me, not unlike Dostoevsky’s underground notetaker:

I am a sick man. . . . I am a spiteful man. An unattractive man. I think that my liver hurts. But actually I don’t know a damn thing about my illness. I am not even sure what it is that hurts. . . .

I am quick to judge and wrong as often as not. Sometimes it takes me months or years to realize the folly of my first impressions. An artifact of my Iowan-ness, a genetic marker from my place of origin, it’s my curse for being extroverted and open-minded. Occasionally I publicly call out those I mistake for what they’re not, but more often I nurture these mistakes quietly on the sweet milk of my incorrectness. Knowing that I’m prone to being wrong doesn’t make me less likely to be wrong, but it does keep me quieter . . . in general — my recent excoriation of Martin Amis notwithstanding.

Unfortunately, naming my demons doesn’t give me complete control over them — I’m not one who thinks that analyzing the progenitors of my peevishness gives me total will-to-power over my future — but I have been trying to say “hmm . . . how interesting” more. Fortunately, I’m rather good-natured despite my wickedness and, by and large, get along with almost anyone.

Which brings me ’round to that other thing and the inspiration of this dispatch: Lectures are hard, nigh on unbearable sometimes.

You see, I do the required reading before class and (usually) the optional readings, too. I am a slow reader, mostly because I hear the words in my head and because my inner voices engage the author’s disembodied voice in spirited discussion. I deliberate and I question. And I either suspend disbelief when I don’t know much on the subject or fill in gaps or deconstruct assumptions (mine or the author’s) when I do. I read and I edit and I rewrite books and articles in my head, which is probably why I remember most of what I read and less of what I see or hear.

I suspect few other people read quite so pathologically, but I got spoiled at Grinnell by everyone actually having read the assigned material in advance. I chafe when I sit down in class and see the same material from the readings presented on overheads as Powerpoint bullets: tiny, clipped bons mots struggling to break free in search of true pith and vim. My same inner voices that discussed the work with the authors wait anxiously for a nibble of something new, but all I hear from them is . . . well, let’s take a look at my notes from tonight’s class.

  • αβγδεζηθικλμνξοπρστυφχψω
  • ῷ μοι κακαδαιμων. εγενετω τθφλος. χαλεπως εστι ό βιος.
  • वीर-ज़ारा
  • Lots of people talk. [We have a class of 25 people graded on participation.]
  • Pair programming is a bit Stepford Wives-ish.
  • People think XP is just about pair programming.
  • [Instructor F]‘s 3 + 1 rules — Lame.*
  • [Instructor F] wanted a semester-long class on requirements!
  • How to get the most out of these classes? Zen-like and let it wash over me? Pick out the good stuff as it floats bye like Wracker Quoyle? “Hmm . . . how intersting” for the rest?
  • Other people are real people. I like books more than lectures, but we do learn from others experiences.
  • How do people [like me] with partial (but real & sometimes deep) experience [from the workplace] learn [how to do what we already do better]?
  • What should be our goals? How do [high-level] Aquinas-like books [based on distinguishing between this and that] like our text by Sommerville fit in?
  • Why don’t I trust instructors? Do I unjustly expect infallibility? Why? Is it my Old Testament upbringing? Perhaps it fits with my Iowa-ness. Perhaps I’m just mean. Probably . . .
  • I don’t think [Instructor F] really knows the difference between functional and nonfunctional requirements, but I don’t think that’s important. (See above) But we are wasting a lot of time trying to distinguish them . . . poorly.

Welcome to the purgatorial life of a night school philosopher-engineer. At least I’m getting therapy as well as an education.

* — “#1 – You are responsible. #2 – ‘Stuff’ happens. #3 – If #2 happens see #1.” #4 was slightly more helpful, but I won’t bore you with it. [Instructor F] presented these individually via Powerpoint with a long dramatic pause after the first. So, seeing “You are responsible.” on the screen with a pregnant pause led me to ask “Responsible for what?” thinking it might be some sort of ploy to get us to a sort of uber-insight into Software Development Methodologies. “For yourselves!” was the reply. Giggles all around.

What are we, seven years old? Funny story there. The first week of class we had to sing “Happy Birthday” to [Instructor F]‘s first-grader at the course break. “Today is my son’s birthday. Since I can’t be there with him, it would mean a lot . . .”

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