Posts Tagged With: College

The One Year Anniversary of the New Me

Even our Amish parents and siblings made it to our beach wedding.

Even our Amish parents and siblings made it to our beach wedding.

One year ago I was working a dead end job and “investing” in a business by going into credit card debt, I was several thousand dollars in debt, I was living in a big house with people I wasn’t getting along with anymore, I had too much stuff, I was addicted to Mountain Dew, I was struggling with personal upheavals related to a fundamental shift in my worldview, and I was dreaming of someday getting a college degree.

I had always planned on enrolling in college as soon as I was financially stable–as soon as all my debts were paid off, the business was doing well, and I could afford to take a several year sabbatical to pursue an education. Then almost exactly a year ago, I was encouraged to enroll in college despite my responsibilities. I was encouraged to enroll in college even if it was just to take one course at a time. I was persuaded to enroll in college and try it despite my constantly-changing plans for the future.

It didn’t take a lot of consideration before I decided to enroll. My life was getting stagnant, and college, it seemed, was exactly what I needed. I enrolled in college, but I did way more than that. I took the opportunity to completely reorganize my life and my priorities.

The first thing we (myself and my fiancee at the time) did was move out of the big house where we lived with 5-7 other people. We moved into my aunt’s nice vacation home and cut some of the toxic personal relationships that had been dragging us down for the past year. I quit the minimum wage dead end job that I had been using to help make ends meet until my online business brought in more sales, and I stopped deluding myself into thinking that I would be able to survive on my business income anytime soon. I quit pumping money, energy, and time into the business. Instead, I began a part-time lawn care job. The work was hard, but it paid way more than minimum wage.

By transferring my time from internet marketing and a minimum wage part-time job to lawn care, I was able to pay off several thousand dollars of debt that I had incurred over the previous three years. In fact, working only 2-3 days a week, I was able to pay off most of my debt and still have the time and money to go to college full time. The only debt I have left is a bit on my vehicle loan (which I had purchased a month before losing my internet marketing job about three years ago). To help support my addiction to higher education, I also sold most of my stuff and cut my expenses as much as I possibly could.

Because my life was changing so much, I decided it was also time to quit my excessive inhalation of Mountain Dew. I quit that without a problem and even cut down on my smoking.

The biggest change in the last year, however, was getting married. When I asked her about 9 months ago, we had been dating for more than 5 years. Why so long? First of all, we lived together for most of those 5 years, so getting married wasn’t something that seemed like too big of a lifestyle change. More importantly, much like college, I had been waiting to get married until I was “financially stable” whatever that means. Enrolling in college without that financial stability forced me to question my justification for waiting to marry. Long story short, we got engaged and had an awesome beach wedding five days ago.

That, in a nutshell, is how my life changed over the past year. Sometimes, you gotta know when to fold ’em and start fresh with a new hand, and that’s what I did a year ago. So far, life is looking much better. My only regret is that I didn’t do all of this when I first lost my job instead of wallowing around for next three years in various entrepreneurial pursuits.

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Categories: College, College Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Phi Theta Kappa Membership

Phi Theta Kappa Certificate

Phi Theta Kappa Certificate

The other week I received an email from my calculus professor (she’s the advisor for my college’s chapter of the society) notifying me that I qualify for membership in Phi Theta Kappa–the honor society for 2-year college students. Among other eligibility requirements, one must have completed at least 12 credit hours and have a current GPA of at least 3.5.

The eligibility requirements are pretty low, I think, but I still feel a sense of pride for the invitation. Besides, gaining membership had been one of my goals. It’ll look good on my diploma and my resume, and it may get me some fat scholarships depending on the university I apply to in a year.

I went ahead and paid the $75 fee to join–hopefully, it’s worth it. What do you think? Is membership in Phi Theta Kappa particularly beneficial in any way?

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On Being Debt Free

No credit card debt

This is a good feeling!

Having debt sucks! Last year at this time, I had $2600 in credit card debt, $1300 that I still owed on my ridiculously amazing laptop, and several thousand on an auto loan.

In the last year, with a part-time job and being full-time in school, I paid off all of my credit card debt, my laptop, and about $3000 on my auto loan. I accomplished it by changing my priorities, getting a part-time job, cutting down my expenses, selling most of my belongings, and living frugally. It’s a good feeling to be pretty much debt free.

I know that $2600 isn’t a lot of credit card debt, but it hangs over you like a crowd of menacing clouds, and even a small amount like that sucks up interest, and it takes a long time to pay off when your income is limited. At the time, I was spending a lot of time on an entrepreneurial endeavor. A colleague from a former job and I were trying to make a go of it selling Amish furniture online. Like all startups, it took a lot of time. Unfortunately, the sales were not yet at the point where it could support our lifestyles, and so I supplemented mine with credit cards. It’s an investment, I thought. Once the sales really start rolling in, I’ll be able to easily pay of the credit card debt that I used to buy food and pay bills.

Then last march I made the life-changing decision to pursue a college degree. After several years of babying our company, always believing that huge sales were just around the corner, I decided, essentially, to cut my losses. I’m still a partner in the business, and it’s actually doing pretty well at this time, but the commission checks we pay ourselves are nowhere close to covering life expenses. Besides, I’ve always known that I don’t want to do online marketing for the rest of my life–it just doesn’t exhilarate me like studying math and science does. Although I’m still considered a partner, I don’t put much time into the business, and it’s not on my list of priorities for the future. Making the decision to pursue a degree forced me to face reality, and find an alternate source of income.

Now I mow lawns. Seriously. I maintain forty or so lawns, I trim trees, bushes, and hedges on the side, and sometimes I fill in for another lawn care company. I work about 2-3 days a week, and last year I made between 15k and 20k doing this. It’s  not much, but by cutting my expenses, and living frugally, I was able not only to survive, but actually to pay down existing debt. It helps that for much of the year I can live rent free by “house sitting” a relative’s winter home. I don’t like mowing lawns. After years as a white collar worker, it hurts my pride. Sometimes, pride just has to be swallowed for the greater good.

My ridiculously amazing laptop was also one of those “investments”. I thought I needed it for the business, and the manufacturer allowed me to purchase it for monthly payments of $30 or so. The interest was high–like 30%–but I figured I would have it paid off within a month. It took most of a year. Now I know that I don’t actually need an i7 processor, a backlit keyboard, and an extra-large battery. Live and learn.

As for my auto loan, I’ll have that completely paid off in a few more months. I purchased a nice, used SUV about a month before I got laid off from my well-paying job (three years ago). I had money, but my girlfriend (fiancee now) and I were heading to Switzerland for a vacation, so I decided to take out a loan on the vehicle and wait to pay the rest until we were back from Switzerland. Life had other plans. We cancelled the Switzerland trip and swallowed the $1500 or so in tickets we had purchased. I just didn’t feel comfortable going without a stable income. Two years later, all of the money I had planned on using to pay off the car had been spent on food and other bills, and I was falling back on credit cards while we were trying to get rich selling Amish furniture.

Now, two and a half years later, my SUV is almost paid off. I haven’t taken out any student loans–those will probably come when I transfer to a university. As of right now, I am essentially debt free, and it feels great.

Categories: Affording College, College | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Analyzing and Improving your Math Test Scores

My Calculus Test Grade

My Calculus Test Grade

Yesterday I finally got my calculus test results for the test I took last week. My grade was 90% (plus 3 percentage points for extra credit work I did). That the class average was under 64% is irrelevant. As a perfectionist with a 4.0 GPA, my grade is unacceptable. The question is, how am I going to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

The first step is a critical analysis of where I went wrong. The second step is to figure out what was wrong with my learning and test preparation strategies, and the last step is to adjust my learning and test preparation strategies so it doesn’t happen again.

It has been my experience that errors I make on a math test fall into three different categories:

  1. Format errors
  2. Calculation errors
  3. Conceptual errors

The first, format errors, occur when you don’t obey the formatting rules outlined or assumed by the professor. For example, if you’re asked to show work and you don’t or if you’re supposed to call a nonexistent limit “DNE” instead of “it no work”, I would call those formatting errors. The second is calculation errors, and those are caused when you don’t pay attention to detail, or you fail to check your work. The third is the worst kind of error because it signals a conceptual misunderstanding of the material the test is testing you on.

  1. Format errors: Sloppiness, failure to follow guidelines
  2. Calculation errors: Failure to check work or pay attention to detail
  3. Conceptual errors: Failing to understand the material at the conceptual level

Before the test, our professor repeatedly told us that we have to show work in order to receive credit. Well, silly me, on a two-part problem which required the same kind of thinking on both parts, I decided it would be sufficient to show work on one part and just do the next part in my head. Ouch, -1 point. On another problem, I got a -2 for not being explicit enough with my answer. I answered “discontinuous at x = 3 because undefined”. The correct answer was “f(3) is not defined”. I think my professor was getting tired or something when she graded that one. On another one I used absolute value bars when I should have used brackets and a negative sign. I still got the right final answer–my method was just not the traditional one. All in all, 4 out of 10 of the negative points I got was due to avoidable sloppiness–format errors.

On two of the problems, I demonstrated a failure of understanding at the conceptual level. I lost 5 points for mistaking a tangent line to a curve at a specific point for the derivative function of the curve. It took me an hour to figure out where I went wrong–a definite failure at the conceptual level. The one other point loss came from an inability to remember (or to figure out) whether or not a function is differentiable at a removable discontinuity.

To fix errors of the first kind (i.e. format errors) I need to pay more attention to my professor’s guidelines, and I need to follow them to the letter. It wouldn’t hurt to show way more work than I think is necessary. It probably would be a good idea to give my answer in multiple ways just to make it obvious that I know what I’m doing. I didn’t make any calculation errors, but these are fairly easily fixed by checking work religiously and by at least two different methods. Errors of the third kind (i.e. conceptual errors) can only be fixed by analyzing my learning strategy and adjusting it to reinforce and check whether I’m actually understanding the material at the conceptual level. A good review done prior to the test should also help keep the conceptual stuff fresh come test time. So here’s how to fix each of these math test errors:

  1. Format errors: Pay attention to and follow your professor’s guidelines and generally accepted math syntax. Don’t forget your units.
  2. Calculation errors: Check your work as you’re going along then later come back and double-check it with a completely different method.
  3. Conceptual errors: Study, study, study. Constantly review to keep the conceptual stuff fresh in your mind. You need to know the “definitions” so you have a conceptual foundation to fall back on.

That’s it. We’ll see what my grade is on the next calculus test…

Categories: Math | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

I did the S-word

Public SpeakingI feel almost embarrassed for the lack of updates in the last several months. I’m getting married in a few weeks, and trying to juggle work, school, friends, and wedding planning leaves very little time for writing. I promise to update this blog more often in the near future, but I just wanted to pop in today and share some exciting news.

In my life I have scaled some of the tallest mountains in Montana, I’ve left the oppressive culture that is the Amish, I’ve developed computer software and Android apps, I’ve written a book, I made member of the International Society for Philosophical Enquiry (way cooler than Mensa), I landed a white-collar internet marketing job with only an eighth grade education, I convinced a beautiful girl to fall in love with me, but today… today… I stood in front of about thirty people and gave a speech.

To put this feat into context, you should know this–I suffer from debilitating social anxiety, or maybe I’ve just convinced myself of that. Years ago I quit accounting school partially because I couldn’t handle the pressure of the required speeches/presentations, but mostly because I decided I hate accounting.

Here I’ve made a cute little function that illustrates the effect of social anxiety on I.Q.:

Social Anxiety Function

Isn’t it pretty? I call it the Social Anxiety Function, where a is your anxiety factor and b is your I.Q. when you’re all alone. It gives your I.Q. as a function of the number of people that are looking at you.

Given my specific conditions, this function shows that my I.Q. hits zero when there are 5 people watching me. Any more than that, and it goes negative, which seems impossible given how I.Q. is measured, but trust me, it’s very real. If six people are looking in my direction, the speech and behavior that I manifest are not possibly the output of anything with positive intelligence.

Sometimes, when I’m walking down the aisle of a grocery store I start walking funny because I think the person I just passed has turned, and is watching me. I walk funny because I’m concentrating so hard on walking like a normal person. I don’t have any kind of physical disability–when I’m all alone I walk perfectly fine, but have someone watch me and I develop a limp because I’m trying so hard not to.

I would like to see a psychologist, but I’m deathly afraid that I wouldn’t be able to talk. I’m usually okay when it comes to answering questions, but it’s very difficult for me to initiate conversation or to say anything that’s not the answer to a question. I think I suffer from some weird form of mutism.

Hopefully, that gives you some idea of the magnitude of the accomplishment I’ve made today. I stood in front of a class of 20-30 fellow students, and I gave a speech about myself. I had no choice in the topic. But, it wasn’t as bad as I had feared it would be. I ended up with a pretty good grade, although the professor told us that she was going easy on the grading for our first speech.

I practiced my speech over and over again when I was alone at home. I actually did pretty good when it came time to speak. I forgot a few things I had planned on saying, and I fumbled my introduction, but other than that it wasn’t too bad. I attribute my success almost entirely to those rehearsals, and I really appreciate the friends that told me to practice, practice, practice! I only practiced my speech when I was alone. It would’ve helped even more if I would have rehearsed in front of my housemates, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t even rehearse my speech in front of my fiancee–that’s how weird it makes me feel to stand up and formally address by voice my fellow humans.

Tonight, I feel exhausted. You’d think I ran a marathon. This speech course is a required course for me, but getting through it will be worth it, I think. The sense of accomplishment I felt after the nausea had worn off was great. Now I know that I can do anything. Who knows, maybe I could even learn to function as a social animal despite my anxiety.

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Whew! Last Final!

This afternoon I had my last final exam for the semester–chemistry. I feel pretty confident with my score. I should get a score around the mid-90’s, which isn’t bad considering that I didn’t review much for the exam. No worries, though… I can score all the down to 76% on the final and still walk away with an A for the course.

Last Friday I had my trigonometry and pre-calculus finals. I faced the same issue that I did with the mid-terms–I had to be at the college’s southern campus (45 minutes south of home) at 4:00PM for pre-calculus, then I had to be at the college’s northern campus (1/2 hour north of home) at 7:00PM for the trigonometry final. This time, however, I was well prepared for both exams and had no trouble. I aced both of them. So far (3 math courses) I haven’t had less than 100% on any proctored math exams. One time, I got one question partially wrong, but weirdly enough, a perfect score results in a score of a few percentage points more than 100, so that time I ended up getting exactly 100%.

I’m glad the semester is over. Toward the end there I was getting bored and having trouble with ambition. That, of course, resulted in some scary procrastination. Now I have about three weeks to catch up on other things before going back to school. This weekend our household (3 adults) is moving to a new place. That’ll be fun. Not. Next weekend, my fiancee and I plan on visiting Florida State University, which is likely to be the university that I transfer to for fall 2015. Hopefully, I’ll also be able to work a little more–save up some of that green stuff that I haven’t seen around much of late. Maybe, I’ll even have time to drink a few beers and do some reading.

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The Day After Beer

alcohol-148993_640The other weekend we had a party at our place. It was a small party–nothing fancy–just some friends and a few of my fiancee’s colleagues. We chatted, had some beers, sat around, had some wine, played charades, had more beer, and so on. I had fun. It had been a while since I’d had a drink so it didn’t take much for me to feel it.

The next day I remembered why I don’t drink much anymore. I had trouble concentrating and my brain felt fuzzier than normal. As I was staring uncomprehendingly at a trigonometry problem, I wondered if this was what being stupid feels like. I was reminded of why I don’t drink and study.

The lack of focus I felt wasn’t due to the classical hangover–I had had that the night before due to stopping my alcohol consumption several hours before going to bed. I didn’t have the classical hangover symptoms, but my ability to study was definitely stunted. This isn’t something new to me–in fact, I drink very little since starting college because I know how dramatically it affects my ability to study. I can’t drink before or during studying because it affects my concentration and comprehension abilities. I can’t drink after studying because I’m asleep–I just have no time for drinking.

Thinking that this phenomenon is probably pretty common, I did a quick search for research on the short-term effects of alcohol on study ability, but I couldn’t find anything. All I could find was a lot of info on the correlation between constant binge drinking and poor GPA. I know it’s just anecdotal, but I find it interesting that my studying ability seems to be negatively affected after consuming alcohol–long before I’ve drank enough to feel a “buzz” and long after any wooziness has faded. I must note that other than study ability, I seem to function normally. I don’t even notice this effect of alcohol unless I’m trying to do something that requires a lot of concentration–like studying trigonometry. Somebody should do a study now that I’ve raised awareness… for science, you know!

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Television: A Student’s Nemesis

tv-46909_640Here I am trying to write, but something keeps distracting me. It’s Chuck. Whenever I try to ignore him and try to get something done, Chuck whispers quietly to me. I don’t even like him that much, but unless I give him my undivided attention, he just keeps bugging me. It hasn’t always been like this. A few weeks ago I had never heard of Chuck. A few weeks ago it was Dexter that kept bugging me.

Yes… I’m talking about television. I have this bad habit of falling for television series. I’m not content watching one episode a week. Oh no. Not when I can watch five seasons in two weeks on Netflix or some darker corner of the web. I really liked Dexter–I think it’s a brilliant show for the most part. Watching Dexter was like taking a voyage into the depths of my psyche. It was like a character study of some dark, eccentric, and lonely portion of myself, and so I was able to wisely spend (i.e. waste) my time without feeling too guilty. I was deeply saddened after I watched the final episode and realized that Dexter was gone forever. Now, I’m watching Chuck. I don’t particularly like it. I think it’s poorly written and not even faintly realistic. I just don’t understand why I can’t stop watching it. Every time I get hungry I use it as an excuse to nuke a TV dinner or pour a bowl of cereal and watch 45 minutes of Chuck. Then I watch another one. Before I know it it’s 4:00AM and I’ve blown most of the day and the next.

When I’m not watching “my show”, whatever it may be at the moment, I have trouble focusing and I experience withdrawal symptoms. If I give in and watch an episode, I feel dirty and guilty for not having accomplished something more productive… like studying for finals. The only solution seems to be to watch every episode as quickly as possible–to get it over with so I can concentrate on studying again. After such a marathon I’m usually good for a few weeks or even months, but eventually I start getting edgy and I begin feeling burned out with my life. When that happens, I examine myself and my lifestyle and try to figure out what’s wrong, and I realize that what I’m missing is a good television series.

Help! I think I need a vacation.

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Course Notes: ENC 1102 Written Communications II

enc-1102
I took ENC 1102 last semester, and finally, here are my thoughts on it.

ENC 1102 is the study of three forms of literature–short stories, poetry, and drama (plays). This course involves the critical analysis of various members of the aforementioned forms of literature. You have to really think about what you’re reading, break it down, analyze it, why this symbolism, why that allusion, and so on. I had to write one research paper during the course, and I chose William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.”

One aspect of literary analysis that I’m not too fond of is the emphasis on interpretation. For any given classic, there seem to be hundreds of interpretations about the grander meaning or purpose of the work. One person says it’s about the idiocy of the North during the civil war, another says it’s about the silliness of the South during the civil war, another says it’s about the emergence of feminism, and so on and on and on. What if it was just meant to be an interesting story? Huh? Did you think about that possibility? What if the writer never harbored a hidden agenda that can only be teased out after months of speculation and tripping to conclusions?

As for reading drama, I don’t have too much to say about it–it’s just like watching the play in your head. After watching videos of the same plays, I realized that I enjoy the versions in my head better. During this course, I studied Hamlet for the first time, and after getting past the esoteric language, I actually enjoyed it and found moments that made me grin. The favorite play that I studied in this course would have to be Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Talk about LMAOing all over the floor…

What I’m about to say now may anger you and cause you to think condescendingly of me from hereon. This is particularly true if your major is literary in nature. Irregardless… just kidding. Regardless of how your opinion of my digital persona may change, the following things need to be said.

I’ll start in soft and easy…

To me, the purpose of writing is to convey information in an interesting manner. The best writers, then, are the ones that write unambiguously, and interestingly. It is quite the opposite with poetry. Petals on a wet, black bough? Bitch puhleeze! It takes a lot of effort for me to “understand” a poem, and even then, I can’t be sure that my interpretation is what the poet intended. I know that poetry is supposed to evoke emotion, but in me, the only evoked emotion is that of extreme irritation at the writer’s apparent inability to convey information in a clear and interesting manner. Poetry seems to be nothing more than a collection of vague verbal stimuli directed toward those that tend to find patterns in random nonsense. As such, it is more a verbal Rorschach Test than anything else. The fact is, ENC 1102 did nothing to mollify my unabashed hatred of poetry. I accept that I am missing out on a part of human experience that is important to many people, but that’s okay. I’ve come to terms with my condition.</end rant>

The only tip I really have, if you’re taking this course, is; if it’s a classic, and it tells a story; watch the movie.

P.S. Depending on your professor, you better wield your MLA with some serious skill (FYI: that last part included something called “alliteration.” You’ll learn all about that in ENC 1102).

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Here's your damn turkey!

Here’s your damn turkey!

Well, Happy Thanksgiving! It’s been weeks (months?) since I’ve posted on here, so here are a few updates.

The semester is almost over for me. I have a week’s worth of chemistry studies and one anthropology essay left, and then I’m down to final exams. This week has been fairly slow, but next week will be pretty hectic with my trigonometry and pre-calculus finals. I’ve done well this semester. As long as nothing goes wrong with the finals, I should have A’s in all four courses.

I’m glad the semester is almost over. Four months of focusing my attention on four specific subjects is almost too long. I’m starting to get bored. I can’t wait to start fresh in January with four new courses. I’m nearing the end of my second college semester and already college is becoming routine… I’m afraid that I’m already losing that sense of adventure, but hopefully, new courses and a new semester will revitalize me. This winter I’ll have a whole month off of school. Most of my courses finish in the first week of December, and the next semester doesn’t start until January 6 or so. It’ll be nice to have some time off of studying, but I’m afraid the break is almost too long… I’m afraid that I may lose some momentum or ambition.

Categories: College, College Life | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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