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Going Back to College
Posted: 08 July 2009 05:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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jump_in_the_pit - 08 July 2009 05:16 PM

fotobits, have you looked at the various virtual options?  I see that
many colleges are offering online classes.  I don’t know if any are
accredited or if they give you a chance to get answers to
your questions.

Many respectable private colleges and State universities are offering online classes in conjunction with their brick and mortar classes. Although they do not offer them exclusively and to get your degree many on site courses must be taken. Some are “hybrid” where the majority of classes are held online but midterm and final are taken in class. These are very handy for those who work full time. I’ve tried these classes, especially the hybrid, and while they are wonderful for me as a full time working mother, I do enjoy the classroom setting and perform better in person.

I’ve heard some very bad things about those “University of Phoenix” online degrees a few years ago. People were calling it a “diploma mill” and other such names. Perhaps they’ve improved since I heard those rumors? I have, however, witnessed that applicants at the large company where I work who list “University of Phoenix” on their resumes, those resumes were passed over and even chuckled at by upper management. I felt bad for those people.

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Posted: 08 July 2009 05:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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fotobits - 08 July 2009 05:28 PM

St. Ed’s, as a private school, is not bound by Texas law on this point and will count my previous credits.

Just double check with them that they will indeed accept the old credit, get it in writing before you sign up!!

I’m not 100% sure how the law varies by state and public vs. private institutions. The 10 year rule is what I’m aware of in CT, not sure how TX handles that.

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Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe.    - Lex Luthor

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Posted: 08 July 2009 06:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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Jules,

You are right about the University of Phoenix. My wife is a manager at a large company, and they do the same thing when they see a resume that lists U of P.

I met with an admission counselor at St Ed’s yesterday, and will know for sure what will transfer before I have to commit to classes. So far I’m only on the hook for the $45 application fee.

If I attend public schools in Texas I will be starting over. That’s not as bad as it sounds, as I can test out of 15-18 hours in English, History and Government. I’ll have to start in a refresher Algebra class and work my way through Algebra, Trig and Precalculus before getting into Calculus and Engineering Physics. This will take longer than going through St. Ed’s but in some ways I prefer that option. I love Astronomy, and have always wished I could take upper division Astronomy and Physics courses.

My wife is encouraging me to get my BA as soon as possible, and then get into the graduate program she is taking; Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Ethics. I’ve enjoyed editing her papers for those classes, but do not see how that degree will get me any closer to being a science writer.

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Posted: 09 July 2009 07:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Well done! I had my own “moment of Zen” a few years ago. I was badgering my middle son to stay in college, and
he stopped me cold: “What are you talking about? You never finished college either!” Ouch. So I went back to night
school and accumulated enough credits to get the BA in Philosophy that I started on wayyyyy back in 1973. If
nothing else, it kept the little bugger from dropping out like I did. wink  It also made my mother proud, she was
quite giddy. “I knew it! I knew you’d get back on track some day!” Mind you, I was 53 years old when she said
this. A mother’s faith never wavers. Never.

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Posted: 09 July 2009 07:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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There are good applications to help you to understand math.
One is called Sage, it is open-source so you can have it, if you
want it.  But you can also use it through there web site, so
that you don’t have to install it.  Just click “Sage Via the Web”
and register (it is anonymous), it’s easy.

Start a new worksheet and try to type in this basic quadratic
function:

y = plot(x**2 + x, [-10, 10])
show(y)

Then play with the function.  Change the exponents (raise
the degree) of the function and see what shapes you can make.
Multiply the variable x by various numbers (coefficient) and see
how that changes the plot.  Add various numbers (translation)
to see how that changes the plot.  Then change to different
functions, all that you can imagine.

Playing with the equations is something that they don’t teach
in math class (but should), it is a part of the genius that the
great mathematicians of history have done in their heads (and
so you should learn to do it in your head too).  No-one in
history has had such a strong advantage of being able to
instantly and precisely plot equations, this recent advantage
of plotting calculators and various software applications gives
you a real opportunity for personal discovery.  Take advantage.

Sage has many features, including all of the elementary math
that you learned in High School and also stretching out to the
high levels of math, so it gives you plenty of room to explore
and grow.  It is an ongoing project.  Gnuplot and Octave are
other open source options.  Commercial options like Matlab and
Mathmatica are available.

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Posted: 09 July 2009 05:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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I have some opinions to offer, but I must admit that these are idiosyncratic opinions. First, I certainly have experience right up your alley: BS Physics, MS Physics with concentration on Astronomy. So I can certainly speak to those issues.

A general comment: I take a dim view of coursework. I much prefer to learn by myself. I admit, it’s a matter of personal style. You’ve already expressed a personal preference for coursework. There’s a lot to be said for the social element of learning. But if you’re an antisocial jerk like me, just remember, you can teach yourself faster than others can teach you.

However, there is a special value in coursework: the professors will take you kicking and screaming in directions you don’t want to go until you get to the destination, and suddenly realize that there’s something kinda neat about that new direction. And there’s a lot to be said for mixing it up in the lab with other students.

However, other students can be just as much part of the problem. I’ve always felt that the value of coursework comes from the students, not the teacher. A bunch of lazy morons forces the teacher to teach down to their level; a collection of hard-working brilliant students brings out the best in a teacher. This is the worst problem with community colleges.

I taught for two years at a community college. Here’s the good news: many of these teachers are desperate to find good students. Walk in, work hard, express interest, and you’ll have the teachers following you around like puppies. “You wanna do a special project?”  “I’ve got some new lab equipment that’s too delicate for regular students; would you like to try an experiment with it?”

Steer a wide course around the older community college teachers. The bureaucracy grinds down energy and drive. Notice that I’m an EX-community college teacher. I’m glad I got out of that snake pit. An older teacher is most likely a survivor rather than an inspired teacher—unless it’s somebody who is returning to teaching after a career.

The hardest part of physics/astronomy is the mathematical rigor. Sorry, there’s no way around this: if you can’t handle calculus, forget it. Now, there is a sad element to this: you go into physics thinking that you’re going to learn about the mysteries of the universe. What you get is balls rolling down inclined planes. So you plod through the drudgery, figuring that it’s the basics and you have to master the basics first. So you get into upper division physics and at long last you’re going to learn about the mysteries of the universe, right? Wrong! Now you’re working on cylinders with elliptical cross-sections rolling down curving inclined planes. Same basic problem, only with calculus! OK, so you plot through all that and get your BS and head on to graduate school. NOW you’re going to learn about the mysteries of the universe, right? Wrong! Now you’re solving the problems of motion of objects whose shapes are specified by equations, moving through multi-dimensional spaces under constraints specified by other equations. Sort of like weirdly shaped eggs wobbling along through weirdly shaped tunnels that are kinda-sorta inclined.

I confess, this is a bit of a caricature. But it’s certainly how it feels. You spend all of your time grinding through tedious mathematical computations that seldom have anything to do with the mysteries of the universe. Indeed, physicists have gotten so mathematically intense that many have lost the “sense of physics”. They live in a pure mathematical world in which the behavior of physical systems is subordinated to the mathematical models. I’ll never forget nailing one of my physics professors on a mistake he made in a test question. He had set up the problem with a slight error that invalidated the standard model that he had taught us to use. He and all the other students dutifully plugged in the standard equations, integrated, and ground out the standard answer—which was wrong. I looked at the problem and thought about what it meant, and came up with a completely different answer—which turned out to be right. My physics professor called this “intuition physics”. I thought of it as “thinking about the physics rather than the math”.

[break]

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Posted: 09 July 2009 05:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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Next admonition: don’t just read about physics and astronomy; DO it. There are a ton of exercises you can carry out that will have lots of educational value. I’ll mention two:

Got a small telescope? If so, watch Jupiter every night for a month or so, measuring the positions of its four bright moons. (Jupiter rises about midnight these days). From those observations, you can measure the mass of Jupiter. Cool, huh? I did this in high school with very primitive equipment; you should be able to do much better.

Here’s another: figure the orbit of the International Space Station. To do this, you look up predictions for its passes over your area at a website called Heavens Above. Then you take pictures of it when it passes over. You can do this with any decent digital camera other than a point-and-click one. You mount the camera on a tripod, set the exposure to maybe 10 seconds or so, and then click away when the ISS comes over. Next, you take the photos in your computer and measure the locations of the start and end points of the trails at various locations. From that, you can figure the angular velocity at various altitudes. And from that, you can throw in some simple physics (not even calculus!) and figure out the height of the thing.

I can explain either of these in some detail. There’s tons more stuff you can do. It will do more for your understanding of physics and astronomy than coursework. Doing is always more productive than listening.

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Posted: 09 July 2009 05:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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Chris Crawford - 09 July 2009 05:18 PM

Next admonition: don’t just read about physics and astronomy; DO it. There are a ton of exercises you can carry out that will have lots of educational value. I’ll mention two:

Got a small telescope? If so, watch Jupiter every night for a month or so, measuring the positions of its four bright moons. (Jupiter rises about midnight these days). From those observations, you can measure the mass of Jupiter. Cool, huh? I did this in high school with very primitive equipment; you should be able to do much better.

Here’s another: figure the orbit of the International Space Station. To do this, you look up predictions for its passes over your area at a website called Heavens Above. Then you take pictures of it when it passes over. You can do this with any decent digital camera other than a point-and-click one. You mount the camera on a tripod, set the exposure to maybe 10 seconds or so, and then click away when the ISS comes over. Next, you take the photos in your computer and measure the locations of the start and end points of the trails at various locations. From that, you can figure the angular velocity at various altitudes. And from that, you can throw in some simple physics (not even calculus!) and figure out the height of the thing.

I can explain either of these in some detail. There’s tons more stuff you can do. It will do more for your understanding of physics and astronomy than coursework. Doing is always more productive than listening.

Really cool ideas, Chris ...

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Posted: 09 July 2009 06:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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Yes Chris, those are good ideas. Luckily, I am practicing astronomy. I joined the Austin Astronomical Society about 16 months ago, am editing the club newsletter and got elected to the executive committee as public relations chairman. I have an 8-inch Dobsonian telescope, and a 14-inch Dobsonian kit shipping my way tomorrow. I’m working on my Messier Certificate and Public Outreach Certificate from the Astronomical League. I went to the Texas Star Party in April, and spent one week observing under very dark skies.

Jupiter is a beautiful sight through a good 8-inch telescope, especially with the 6mm Ethos eyepiece I bought a couple of weeks ago. You’re right, doing is always more fun than listening. When I was at TSP in April an astronomer from the McDonald Observatory was walking around the field after dark, chatting with people and looking through their telescopes. He looked through my telescope, then we talked for a few minutes. He admitted he rarely gets to look through telescopes as he is too busy crunching data to spend time looking at the night sky’s splendors.

One option I have is going to The University of Texas at Austin and getting a degree in History with a minor in Astronomy. UT has enough Liberal Arts upper division Astronomy courses to pull this off. That path could still get me in graduate school at the University of New Mexico.

I just signed up and paid for my courses at Austin Community College this fall. St Ed’s is off the option list. If I can’t get into UT I’ll head to New Mexico in a couple of years. But I know some professors at UT, two through the astronomy club and one I worked with at a small Texas newspaper 20 years ago. I need to start taking some people to dinner.

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Posted: 09 July 2009 08:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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A small item about amateur astronomy: it’s not science. Yes, you look at a lot of neat things, but the real core of science is measurement. That astronomer who mentioned that he spends all his time crunching numbers and never gets to look through a telescope: ain’t it the truth! Science ultimately boils down to numbers, numbers, and more numbers. Computers have turned out to be just as important to astronomy as telescopes.

So I would urge you, if you really want to understand science, then get out there and start measuring things, then putting the measurements together to make sense out of them. The experiment I mentioned with the Galilean moons is a classic, because it involves simple measurements, dealing with experimental error, curve fitting with a computer (which you could do with a simple spreadsheet), and the application of basic Newtonian physics. But there are plenty of other things you can do with that telescope.

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Posted: 10 July 2009 04:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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Chris Crawford - 09 July 2009 08:33 PM

A small item about amateur astronomy: it’s not science. Yes, you look at a lot of neat things, but the real core of science is measurement. That astronomer who mentioned that he spends all his time crunching numbers and never gets to look through a telescope: ain’t it the truth! Science ultimately boils down to numbers, numbers, and more numbers. Computers have turned out to be just as important to astronomy as telescopes.

So I would urge you, if you really want to understand science, then get out there and start measuring things, then putting the measurements together to make sense out of them. The experiment I mentioned with the Galilean moons is a classic, because it involves simple measurements, dealing with experimental error, curve fitting with a computer (which you could do with a simple spreadsheet), and the application of basic Newtonian physics. But there are plenty of other things you can do with that telescope.

When I was doing amateur astronomy several years ago I used to do measurements of variable stars with the AAVSO. Not sure if they’re still doing that, but they did need amateur measurements to find when variable stars were flaring. (They flare chaotically).

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Posted: 10 July 2009 04:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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Yep, looks like the AAVSO is still doin’ their thing, using the power of amateur astronomers’ observations around the country to help plan professional telescope time. For more see the AAVSO website.

If I lived in a place that had good and easy viewing, I might go in for this myself again, like I did when I was in grad school.

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Posted: 10 July 2009 06:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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Wow! AAVSO is *still* doing that? They (or their predecessors) were doing that back in 1912! I would have thought that such efforts had long since been supplanted by the automated telescopes.

I’ve always thought that meteor astronomy was the last refuge of the amateur, the last place where an amateur could make a contribution to science. That’s still true, but it won’t be for much longer: automated systems superior to humans already exist, and now it’s just a matter of time before we have a big network of them.

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Posted: 10 July 2009 07:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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Chris Crawford - 10 July 2009 06:29 AM

Wow! AAVSO is *still* doing that? They (or their predecessors) were doing that back in 1912! I would have thought that such efforts had long since been supplanted by the automated telescopes.

I’ve always thought that meteor astronomy was the last refuge of the amateur, the last place where an amateur could make a contribution to science. That’s still true, but it won’t be for much longer: automated systems superior to humans already exist, and now it’s just a matter of time before we have a big network of them.

Right, finding meteors is another one, although it’s significantly more complex. For variable star observing all you need is a telescope. Even a dobsonian will do fine; you don’t need a drive mechanism since you don’t need to do astrophotography.

When I was doing it they told us that NASA didn’t have remotely the capacity to keep an eye on all the potential variable star targets, and so that volunteer observing would be necessary for the foreseeable future. I suppose it’s possible that things have changed, but really I hope not. It was loads of fun to do. Nothing like looking at a star formation for days or weeks and then coming back and seeing something radically different in the eyepiece, as the star comes into flare.

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Posted: 10 July 2009 08:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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Chris Crawford - 09 July 2009 05:11 PM

The hardest part of physics/astronomy is the mathematical rigor. Sorry, there’s no way around this: if you can’t handle calculus, forget it. Now, there is a sad element to this: you go into physics thinking that you’re going to learn about the mysteries of the universe. What you get is balls rolling down inclined planes. So you plod through the drudgery, figuring that it’s the basics and you have to master the basics first. So you get into upper division physics and at long last you’re going to learn about the mysteries of the universe, right? Wrong! Now you’re working on cylinders with elliptical cross-sections rolling down curving inclined planes. Same basic problem, only with calculus! OK, so you plot through all that and get your BS and head on to graduate school. NOW you’re going to learn about the mysteries of the universe, right? Wrong! Now you’re solving the problems of motion of objects whose shapes are specified by equations, moving through multi-dimensional spaces under constraints specified by other equations. Sort of like weirdly shaped eggs wobbling along through weirdly shaped tunnels that are kinda-sorta inclined.

I just LOVED your story - it was so funny - it made my day!  LOL

Picturing the disappointed kids, eager to learn the secrets of the universe. Maybe eventually we’ll learn that the universe is rolling down a reaaaally big plank…  wink

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Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe.    - Lex Luthor

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