Wednesday, July 08, 2009

You Lucky, Lucky Bastard

Larry Niven, in his "Ringworld" novels, suggested the idea that human beings are the dominant form of life on the planet not because they were genetically predisposed to being smart but because they were genetically predisposed to being lucky. He even toyed with the idea of aliens breeding certain human bloodlines to create the ultimate lucky human.

Recently I benefited from good old human luck.

Before I go on I'll make the point that if you are reading this you are, like me, incredibly lucky in the first place. You were born into a time with amazing technology and freedom and you were born on a part of the planet that probably places you at the top 10% of the wealthiest people on the entire Earth.

Okay, segue over, now onto the Luck ontop of the generic luck.

I am currently studying a Bachelor of Education and, for my sins, I will soon be a teacher of children. I'll let that sink for a moment... Chilling, isn't it?

Last semester I was forced to do a subject called 'Advanced Calculus B'. I have no love for higher mathematics; I see its use, and I like using it as a tool of Physics but I get no joy from the mathematics itself. It is merely a tool I employ to complete a job. I may enjoy building a house but I get no joy from learning how a hammer or saw operates.

Last year I did 'Advanced Calculus A' and, through hard work and perseverence, managed to squeak in with a High Distinction. It was difficult and required a lot of effort but I seem to 'get' Differentiation of a function. It made some sort of sense to me.

But 'Advanced Calculus B' saw the onset of Integration, and that was a whole new, nasty smelling, kettle of fish. For those of you with knowledge of the subject you may find my difficulty at Integration perplexing. Integration is Differentiation in reverse. If you have a function and you Differentiate it and then you Integrate the new function generated you end up with the original function. It all sounds so simple when you put it like that. But for some reason I couldn't make the damn thing work. As the weeks went on Integration became more arcane and unfathomable. I kept hoping the light of comprehension would shine through the clouds of confusion... but it never did.

I was beside myself with worry. The final exam was in less than a week and I had to study for it and my Global Systems subject at the same time. I had ballsed up the mid-semester test something awful and the two assignments I had handed in were more amusing than enlightening (I have a habit of writing fun comics and gags on my assignments and exams when I am either confident or terrified of the work. It would be interesting to see if people could see which was which). As the final days of study approached I was bogged in the mire of Integration with no help in sight. As the cool kids say 'OMG!'.

I kept hoping to be struck down with Swine Flu or a bad case of Terrorism but to no avail. I was hale and hearty, at least physically; the stress was making as mad as a cut snake on LSD.

On the very final day of available study I went through the past exams of the subject. They had been posted by the lecturer a few weeks earlier. To my horror I flunked every..single.. one of them. Utterly ballsed them up. Completely fubared the lot. I was, as they say, up excrement stream without a method of propulsion.

The trip to the university and the exam room was a long and dark one. I took my seat with a class of, mainly, fresh faced and beautiful young nerds. My heart was heavy as I waited for the aging invigilator to ring the bell so we could respond pavlovian style and begin the exam.

And that, gentle reader, is when I realised how lucky I was. Much of the exam I had seen before! Less than 12 hours earlier I had been attempting a past exam and this new exam before me was 50% copied from that exam: almost number for number. Of course, there were a few cosmetic changes, an x squared to an x cubed, or a minus sign added here and there, but at its core it was essentially the same exam... and though I flubbed it the first time round it occurred to me that I could still remember the answers as given by the lecturer... Out poured the memorised answers, with a few necessary cosmetic changes. Slightly more than 50% of the exam pulled almost directly from memory. The rest of the work I manfully attempted. Writing and re-writing, scribbling ideas and concepts hither and yon.

At the end of our allotted time, the craggy faced old woman (who they seem to clone to watch over university exams), rang her little bell again to signal the end. I looked around at the beautiful geeks surrounding me. I could see an equal mix of terror and elation on their smooth, unblemished faces (but maybe that is a common mixture of emotions on the faces of those not quite through the Terror of Puberty). Making my way out of the university grounds I was numb. I couldn't believe how fortunate I had just been.

The full power of my fortune became apparent at the start of this week when I received my over all grade for the subject: a Distinction. Albeit, I had sidled into a Distinction by 1% but a 6 is a 6 and I will hear not a jot against it, Sir!

So, the 64 thousand dollar question is... can I Integrate?

Not really...

If I saw an Integration on the horizon I could probably distinguish it by its sunlit silhouette but don't ask me if it is the Southern Hairy Nosed Integration or its more Northerly cousin.

Could I teach it to high school kidlings?

Probably not... but I never intend to teach mathematics to school kids, especially not university level mathematics. It is not one of my majors, thank the gods.

Did I cheat to achieve the mark I achieved?

Is it cheating when the lecturer is lazy enough to cut and paste 50% of an exam from three years ago and shove it this year's exam? I say, No.

Did you actually learn anything in the 13 weeks doing the subject 'Advanced Calculus B'?

I learnt that fortune favours the prepared mind. I learnt that I am a lucky, lucky bastard, albeit that didn't take 13 weeks to grasp but only the last three hours of the course, in exam conditions.


Anonymous said...

Ringworld rocks!

A distinction for Advanced Calculus is cool, very cool indeed.
But you know, I think I may have said when you were stressing about this subject you'd Wah-blitz it. And that's not because I particularly think of you as a lucky, lucky bastard. Not much comes by chance. Ya done good Wah!

Sorry to be missing Prognosis Death, again. Sounds crazy good.
But, nursing a new hardware install in states elsewhere.



Girl Clumsy said...

Bloody cheek of it. I mean, really.

Can't you have the decency to just pull a few 4s in your academic life?



Anonymous said...

No he cannot pull a few 4's
For, if he does Mrs Ancient Man will be round to discuss it
And that, he would not want...
The Ancient Man

Disco Stu said...

I have arsed my way through some tests before, but that is incredible. You are king of the arse-people.

Crazy Cat Lady said...

I thought the lesson to be learned as a teacher was.... if you're going to cut and paste half an exam, don't give the original exam to your students to study if you want an accurate understanding of their knowledge... or *do* give it if you want them to pass!


Anonymous said...

Integration is Differentiation in re verse.. Is that the same as "wait till your father gets home young man" meaning the same as "No you cant pull a few 4's because Mrs Ancient man will be around to discuss it? Have I got the general idea?? perhaps I can get a 6 too.
signed young and lovely mater..

Anonymous said...

Integration is Differentiation in re verse.. Is that the same as "wait till your father gets home young man" meaning the same as "No you cant pull a few 4's because Mrs Ancient man will be around to discuss it? Have I got the general idea?? perhaps I can get a 6 too.
signed young and lovely mater..