29 February 2008

Another geeky success

This week, I squeezed in my third adventure in oilfield engineering education. The adventure began as the previous ones did: Instructor goes through the class roster, sees female person from -- what the hell? -- the advertising department, assumes she is going to be a dunce, places her on the front row in the center so he can give her extra attention, which clearly she is going to need, right?

I have to admit that despite my previous success with these classes, I was nervous about this one. The head of engineering training told me that the last two sessions of this class had a 50% failure rate. In English: half of the class failed. Part of the reason for that is that my company holds its engineers to a very high standard: You must achieve an 80% average to pass. The other part is that this class is the first one most of our fledgling engineers take, and some are ill-prepared for the work.

So I went in with a bit of a fear factor. The math for this class was said to be the most intense of all our introductory engineering classes, and math scares me. On the first day, I could barely keep up with the instructor on some of the calculations, and I got very frustrated by my slowness.

These classes are five days long, with a test every day, and total brain stuffing. The first day has a pre-test, just to gauge your knowledge. I got a 47, but that's ok because it doesn't count for anything, and it showed that my brain had plenty of space. Tuesday through Thursday tests measured our ability to use information we'd learned the day before. My scores were 98, 98 & 90, respectively. 

The Thursday test was a big deal because apparently it's the one that caused most of the failures in the previous classes. It put a number of my classmates "on the bubble," as well. I felt good about my 90 because all of my wrong answers were due to my own carelessness -- not my lack of knowledge. Carelessness I can deal with. Being stupid, not so much. 

Thursday night homework didn't go well because I didn't feel well. Maybe something I caught from a classmate who felt poopy on Monday & Tuesday? Seriously medicated myself for Friday. Upon checking homework on Friday morning, I found I'd totally messed up a page of calculations. Took me 15 minutes to find my error, but I did. Stupid carelessness!

For the 80-question final exam, we were allotted 3.5 hours. The exam was 60 1-point multiple choice & then 20 two-point calculation questions of the type where if you get one wrong, all the ones underneath are also wrong. You calculate one thing, which you use to calculate the next, and then use one or both of those to calculate something else. Carelessness = high failure potential.

Friday's instructor was not the guy we'd had earlier in the week. I finished in 1.5 hours and the instructor gave me a look that might have been either, "Did you just give up?!" or "Holy shit, you're done?!" Then he graded it and grinned. I got a 96. I can live with that.

But this flu/cold/poopy-feeling thing is not so good.

17 February 2008

"Cute" + Technology = Drool

Once upon a time, in the mid-1990s, I was a "road warrior" with platinum frequent flyer miles, suffering from that shoulder ache you get from lugging too much junk in your carry-on bag. The biggest piece of junk, of course, was the laptop computer. 

To ease my shoulder, I bought a Toshiba Libretto, one of the first micro-notebook computers. Unlike the PDAs that were all the rage at the time, the Libretto runs *real* Windows software (Win 95 I think?) and has a real keyboard, although I am pretty sure most people could not type on the thing because the keys are so tiny. Importantly, it weighs in at just 2 lbs with the standard battery. It has a modem (remember those?) and an external floppy drive, although I can't remember whether I had to buy that separately or it came with the thing. (At the time of purchase -- 1996ish -- a floppy was all you needed!) It has a 75 MHz Pentium processor, so it was pretty much standard/high performance 10 years ago. In the photo above, you see the Libretto (left) with my Mac Mini and a CD, for size comparison. You can imagine how big the screen and keyboard are. Or click here.  

In addition to being practical, the thing was a very cute conversation piece. Even in Japan, where I traveled a lot, most people had never seen one "in the flesh." So OK, it's not "elegant," but it's functional, compact, and it cost me about $1400. I can't remember whether that included the spare oversize battery &/or any other gizmos I may have bought at the time. 

These days, I am no road warrior. I have not booted the Libretto in years. When I need a notebook at home, I have a 7-year-old Dell. Most often, I sit at the computer desk and use my sweet iMac (pat pat). If I need Windows, I also have a desktop Dell that is faster & more powerful than the laptop (but I have not booted the thing in months). For work, they gave me an IBM laptop that I occasionally carry to meetings or classes, but mostly it sits in its docking station.

So I don't *need* a MacBook Air, but dang if I don't want one. 

As the Houston Chronicle's Dwight SIlverman points out, the Air has the same sex appeal as an iPhone. I should note that I took the photo above with my iPhone. I like sex appeal. In fact, John Gruber at Daring Fireball suggests that the MacBook Air is made for me. It is, he says, the computing analogue to a sporty convertible coupe. Lest anyone forget, I drive a yellow Mini Cooper convertible.

The nay-sayers point out the Air's lack of "necessary" features: just one USB port oh n0z! no Ethernet port, oh n0z! no optical drive, oh n0z! The list goes on. These factors do not concern me. I do worry about battery life; when I bought the Libretto I did get a spare battery, which I occasionally needed. I also hate it that the built-in mouse has only one button. Sorry, Mac purists: I am a right-clicker.

But hey, let's put this in a different perspective for this non-power-user: When I bought my Mini Cooper, I had a choice between the base Cooper and the Cooper S that has the awesome supercharger and some other sweet performance features. I had the $. I could have bought the S, and, in fact, I drooled over it for a long time. In the end, however, the "S" did not come in yellow, and yellow was more important than zoom. (I do not regret the decision, except very occasionally when a little more straight-line acceleration would enable a pass that would relieve some drive-time stress.)

I'm going to go back to The Woodlands Mall today to drool on the Air again. It's sunny, so I might even drive with the top down & iPod blaring through the Mini's speakers, just to get into the right mood.