Wednesday, March 22, 2006

All Nighter

The other day my mother-in-law asked me if I could help her son with his Chemistry homework, as he is doing poorly in the class. He just turned 17. Tonight I went to help him. He is doing poorly enough that he doesn't even bother to take the book home. He had a few sheets of homework and most of them were filled out correctly --- just figuring out molarity. It all revolves around one equation. If you can do one, you can do them all. (Divide the grams of your solute by their molecular weight to get "moles" and then divide that by the amount of the solvent in liters. Boom. Molarity. If it's a solid, rather than a liquid, it's called "molality." Most of Chemistry is just a big science vocabulary test.)

It's always fun to do the homework when you already know how to do it. Like how you wish you can grab the pencil and fly through your kindergartener's homework packet. You know what all of the pictures will be before you've connected the dots.

I was thinking that it's funny that it's such a priority to teach this stuff to young kids when they could really care less and anyone who's moved beyond high school is abandoned. After high school, you have to make a special point of learning anything or knowing it's significance (and worse, you have to pay tuition and jump through those hoops if you want a document saying that you know it).

I picture a perfect society where a portion of the work week is dedicated just to maintaining basic math skills. Last week the bosses told us (in so many words) the company had checked out wages at similar jobs and decided to give us all a five percent raise (the turnover is already bad enough). Later I heard Shrek saying, "that's like a $.54 raise. It's like an extra $3000 a year."

I said, "Actually, if the raise comes off our base pay (which I'm sure it does), it's more like $.45."

Shrek freaked out. He went to his friend who had done the math for him. They were both so upset that they brought it up with our bosses in our nightly meeting. I really didn't have the heart to tell them it would be nowhere near $3000 a year and I didn't want to suffer through watching him attempt math to prove it.

I hate school but love learning. My goal is to never again be employed in a "Dilbert-esque" atmosphere. My goal is not to be employed with monkeys on heavy machinery. My goal is to actually redeem all those college credits and get a degree. I guess it all depends on when my kids can get by without a parent.

My biggest mistake was to go to college thinking I was doing it to make myself a better person and persue my interests. That is the worst thing you could ever do. Go to school with a WELL PAYING career in mind and don't stop until you're there. Forget your friends. Forget your family. Forget the outside world or life-experiences.

I had no guidance and now I pay the price. Here is what I was told by two advisors from two of the largest schools in Utah:

Advisor: "Why did you want to see me?"
Me: "Because I've been in school for three years and I've never spoken to an advisor."
Advisor: "That's not my fault."

That's the meat of the conversation. He gave me a schedule of classes I should take over the next year. When I went to register, half the classes were not offered.

The next time I talked to an advisor, I was married and had a toddler, I worked full time and went to school full time taking killer classes. I did fine the first semester but was nose-diving the following semester. I went to an advisor to see if he could help me.

Me: "I feel guilty about not spending time with my son. Work takes up all the time I need to study. What do you think?"
Advisor: "What kind of work do you do?"
Me: "Stopping internet fraud."
Advisor: "Well. Preventing internet fraud is important and I would imagine it's interesting... but is it more important than your education and your career plans?"

I was somewhat baffled at the question. I didn't know how many steps backward I needed to take to explain that I didn't work recreationally. I had what was known as "responsibilities." I wanted to tell him that I would pitch the idea of eating rats under a bridge for the next few years to my family so we could make my education our top priority. I already knew how my wife would feel about that scenario.

Is there such a thing as an advisor who understands the basic workings of our social structure and who doesn't just want to point fingers?

I'm going back to help my brother-in-law some more tomorrow. Maybe I can make Chemistry seem interesting and explain things in a way that is applicable to the world we live in.

Mostly I want a vacation. I haven't had one since we bought our house, unless you count the four days we spent driving to Cali and back when my grandpa died. They probably won't be impressed at work if the new guy asks for a week off.


flieswithoutwings said...

Just to clarify: Molarity is just a measure of the concentration of a solution. For instance, if someone was going to throw acid in your face, you should hope they would do it with a 1 Molar solution rather than a 6 Molar.

Gordon said...

3k a year for a 50 cent raise? Ha. Let's see, 40 hours a week times 52 weeks a year is 2080 hours. 2080 times .50 is...not even half way to 3000.

Native Minnow said...

I think you're right to put your family first. Sometimes I wonder if my marriage would have fallen apart as quickly if I hadn't dedicated myself completely to my schooling and work. Of course, I suspect that it would have regardless.

And no, there's no such thing as an academic advisor that is still in touch with the outside world.

PsychoIntern said...

"I didn't work recreationally"

Wouldn't it be an ideal world if we could? And if we all enjoyed our work as much as recreation? Unfortunately, even if you do something you totally enjoy, it loses its appeal when you do it for money. It is probably a good thing to keep your recreation separate from work. Then you still have things to look forward to on the weekends.

slimysculpin said...

Hold on there, partner-

Molarity is moles of solute per liter of solution (volume including both solvent and solute)

Molality is moles of solute per kilogram of solvent.

Now, how about normality?

Sheriff of Chemistry Town rides again!

Native Minnow said...

I can't believe you guys still remember this stuff! I think I forgot it immediately after the final - it's nothing I'll ever use again. And even if I do, I can always look it up.

flieswithoutwings said...

I did say "liters" for molarity. Molality is used for solids which are measured in kgs. Normality will have to wait for my brother-in-law's next test.

You're my favorite deputy.

slimysculpin said...

No such thing as a solid solvent, sheriff. It's kg of liquid.

Somehow, against my better judgement, analytical chemistry is sneaking into my dissertation research. Ewww.

Yee-haw! Ride-em Freakazene! Away!

flieswithoutwings said...

If my "determination-to-be-right" has served me correctly, then I must argue that metal alloys like brass are considered solutions with solid solvents by the scientific community.

And if anyone out there has decided this is the nerdiest conversation ever and they are much too cool to be subjected to this, then ask yourself: What am I spending my time on blogs for anyway? Nerd.

slimysculpin said...

Huh. Learn something new every day. Wikipedia says you can have a solid solution if the solute doesn't change the crystal structure of the solvent when it solidifies.

Still, the solvent is only a solvent when it's a liquid (molten in the case of alloys), I think.

So I guess you can calculate molality of a solid solution, but it's usually used for regular old liquid solutions.