Friday, March 19, 2010

Courses so far

We've just finished our third week of courses, so we're about a quarter of the way through most of the lectures. I must report on how it's going...

Firstly, physics is tough. We're only doing classical mechanics for the first third, so there's no brand-new ideas (not until next year when we do Lagrangian and Hamiltonian mechanics). It's all stock-standard Newtonian stuff, but it is mathematically very intense. We've been throwing around partial derivatives and differential equations right from the outset, and now that we've moved onto energy, there's some decent vector calculus to go with it. I've found the workshops very challenging. I need to actually make more of an effort in them to ask for help if I'm struggling; otherwise I'm not making use of them. Need to improve in that department..

Electronics is ok. Neil Thomson is a fantastic lecturer; the course is quite practical in nature (far less abstract than maths or physics papers; and it has labs!) So far we've done digital electronics, which I really enjoyed, and now we're doing circuit theory.

Calculus has been surprisingly, and pleasantly, easy so far. It's all multivariate stuff; so far we've explored partial differentiation in a bit of detail. There's nothing startling about it really, it all follows pretty easily from the single variable stuff.

Finally, discrete maths is the paper that's really just a spare paper; however I've enjoyed it so far. We started with counting stuff, really much the same as we did last year for the discrete part of algebra; then we did propositional logic. This was much the same as what we did in Critical Thinking (PHIL105) last year, except being treated from a mathematician's perspective. Now we're doing set theory.

I think the main thing that stands out so far, though, is that the most difficult mathematics we are doing isn't in maths, but in physics. Vector calculus is a third year maths paper, and yet we are doing it within three weeks of starting second year physics. All I can say is, what the hell, maths department? Do we really need to be waiting till second year to even do partial derivatives? I could have learned that straight after high school. If multivariate calculus is going to be 200 level, you really need to make it clear: anyone who can pass high school calculus with ease should skip 100 level calculus. Algebra, maybe less so, skip to MATH103 algebra (the algebra half of MATH170) would have been good advice for me. You need to give this advice really, really strongly - emphasize it. (I say this going only on what we've done so far. Maybe it will get harder, and my opinion will change.)

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