It's been a strange past few days. Strange but good. I've been trying to settle (slowly, not adjusting everything at once in giant overhauls) into a rhythm I can keep for the entire semester. I think I've settled out the academic things I'm doing this term:
History and Philosophy of Engineering Education. A class that's exactly what it sounds like, where I get to watch my classmates struggle with the same "oh noes, qualitative research and philosophy!" unfamiliarity I faced in Susan Silbey's class my senior year at Olin. Not that I don't still struggle with those kinds of reading -- but it's a familiar kind of unfamiliarity now, and I enjoy it in the same way I enjoy listening to people speaking the rhythm of a foreign language I can't understand (Italian and various Chinese dialects particularly).
Engineering Education Inquiry. "How to do research." Reading, writing, and critiquing scholarly papers in our field. Did I mention reading? Mmm, reading. So many different ways of reading!
Engineering Education Seminar. "How to be a grad student." Right now we're doing a lot of talking about our portfolios, which triped me up briefly last week until I remembered my plan to write down what I wanted to do, independent of requirements -- and then figure out which requirements I'll have already met with that, and then figure out the gaps and how to fill them.
Form Follows Data. An course on data-driven art (look at the links on our first assignment -- coffee cups modeled after last week's drinking, a generic "newlyweds" portrait composed of hundreds of wedding photos, graphs and charts made with balloons and string) that I'm taking somewhat serendipitously; I emailed Robin (my advisor) going "I could take research methods, or statistics, or these engineering courses, or..." and then, as an afterthought, "by the way, this random art class sounded cool." As it turns out, the professors from that class had just asked her if she knew any engineers who'd be interested in taking it. Last week's presentations on our prior work were an amusing contrast -- the new media students showed off gorgeous paintings, sculptures, soundscapes, videos of performance art. Then it was my turn, and I went "so, this is the robotic hand I built, this is how I took notes in my physics class, here's a computer I worked on..." I will be building my lightsaber's hilt.
Learning in Informal Environments, which of course has many applications to open source communities. I'm auditing this class instead of taking it formally, because (1) I don't want to kill myself and (2) my travel schedule has me missing a full third of course meetings this semester. If you're keen on following along, our reading is freely available online (though not open-licensed). It's Learning Science in Informal Environments from the National Academies Press, which offers their work for free download (this is recent -- last fall I had to pay to read this stuff, and I wonder what happened!) and is fairly light and brief reading, though backed up well by references; it's -- I'm blanking on the correct term, but it's a summary of a lot of other scholarly work in the field, the "we read a lot of stuff and put it all into a nice book that explores connections between these ideas, then topped it off with an annotated bibliography" sort of reading.
On the Purdue but non-academic side, I am...
Joining the Aikido club. First practice was today. Incidentally, Purdue's first football game of the season was also today. This made getting to practice more... er, complicated than usual. I am going to hurt tomorrow, in a good way; there are muscles that I haven't used for years, since Mark and I studied Aikido for a year in Boston before my required-for-graduation ECE courses began to schedule-conflict with training. Thankfully, I still remember how to roll and breakfall in all directions. That's about all I remember; the rest is gone, and I'm rediscovering how to do simple things like wrist locks, or even just turning around or raising my hands without tensing up.
It's going much faster this second time, though -- I'm much more kinesthetically aware, and able to see why things feel awkward and sometimes fix them instead of just standing there going well, this feels awkward, I'm doing something wrong. Also, many of the Aikido folks are engineers, which is wonderful -- we naturally give each other feedback in terms of statics and dynamics, even free body diagrams and formulae. I'm having fun... and really need to up my conditioning in order to train for more than a semester or so without getting hurt. It's fine now when I'm largely a blank slate and awkwardly trying to remember the moves slowly and gently, but once I do remember them and want to go faster and harder, my lack of muscle tone and cardiovascular stamina will come back to bite me.
Dancing with the swing and blues club once in a while. They had their first dance of the year two blocks from my apartment, which I discovered accidentally while driving home one day. They're pretty good! Since I got there late, I only got in two dances before the band packed up; I didn't connect well with my first lead, but the second was a delight and we got into more complicated and improvisational patterns as the song went on. I love it when that happens. Incidentally, dancing and martial arts are very interconnected for me; they're both about improvisational contact and awareness -- although I have to flip a mental switch between them, because in aikido you're trying to unbalance your partner whereas in swing and blues you're trying to balance him.
I was thinking of doing Tai Chi and a few other things as well, but after trying some other things out I decided to keep Aikido as my one "do this devotedly" extracurricular activity -- do fewer things, but do them well, that's what I'm trying to learn. Swing is more of a "useful to know about in case I need to blow off steam occasionally" thing, but in no way, shape, or form am I committing to any level of participation beyond lurking on their mailing list so I get dance announcements.
My service offering for the year is doing communications stuff for my department's grad student association, which a lot of folks think of as "putting stuff on Facebook" and I think of as "let us adopt actual effective distributed and non-distributed communication tools and methods, please." So this will be a long, slow challenge. And I have resisted the siren call to sign up for more committees and yada yada yada, so hurrah!
I've finally scheduled work hours for myself to do POSSE stuff, which I'm a couple days behind on -- must start that wheel turning again. You'll find me in my office and on IRC in the mornings every weekday putting in my hours; last week was largely about SIGCSE deadlines, this next week moves forward into other projects. I should write more!