Saturday, November 13, 2010

Online Organic Chemistry Drawing Tool

I have some great news for anyone else who might be agonizing over organic chemistry!
My brain has been absorbing lots of organic chemistry in the past 24 hours in preparation for a midterm. Among my Internet travels, I have found the Molecular Property Explorer, which has been super handy for checking simple things like chirality and E/Z (which I somehow make mistakes on all the time!). It appears to be for pharmaceuticals or more hardcore o-chem stuff, but hey, it works for me. 
If it could do IUPAC naming on the fly, or show reaction mechanisms, they would make a lot of students really happy.
By the way, in case you can't tell (and it took me a while), those weird looking buttons at the top say "Clear" and "Undo".

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Year 2 begins!

After dreading the evitability of returning to school and Prince George all summer, here I am.
Surprisingly, after unpacking everything and saying hi to my good ol' roommates (same as last year), I feel fine now. In fact, after the first week of classes, I feel... excited, even!
I get to learn all this cool stuff:
  • ENSC 210 Material and Energy Balances. As far as I can tell, this course is stoichiometry on steroids. We've been told by former students that this course is tough, but very important stuff to know in our field, so I'm interested to see what we're going to learn.
  • ENSC 451 Groundwater Hydrology. Lots of terminology but rest assured, apparently all our testing will be based on calculations. Is this taught by an engineer? Yes.
  • MATH 371 Probability and Statistics for Scientists and Engineers. This course is legendary in how hard it is. Luckily, this semester they've set up Supplemental Instruction (SI), which is basically a separate tutorial led by a peer tutor who has already taken the course and done well.
  • ENSC 302 Energy Development. Endless charts and graphs of CO2 emissions, energy consumption, forecasts of global temperatures - per country, per capita, etc. Quite depressing, really - the future looks rather bleak. This course has no pre-requisites, though, so there isn't a lot of math involved, which is a nice change.
  • CHEM 201 Organic Chemistry. Brute force memorization. Again, I don't think there is going to be much math involved in this course either, but I don't think this course is going to be any easier because of that fact.
  • CHEM 200 Physical Chemistry. So far I think this course is all about manipulating/differentiating/integrating all kinds of crazy equations that try to improve on PV=nRT, which, we have already drilled into our brains from the first few lectures, is useless for REAL gases.
There are 6 courses on there, but on the bright side, no labs, so I still consider that a win. My optimism might fade by midterm-time, but until then, life's good! My life consists of going to classes, hitting the awesome gym, potlucking with friends, and of course, never ending studying and homework.
My goal this semester is to agonize as little as possible, by which I mean I plan to do things the easy way instead of the hard way whenever possible. So I intend to spend more time working with other people and asking for help and less time agonizing alone.
Yay for efficiency!
We'll see how this goes.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Freedom!... for a few months

Final exams for winter semester have come and gone, and I'm happy and proud to say that I survived first year engineering. Phew. I'm not gonna lie - the last semester was the hardest one I've ever had. With up to 10 hours of labs a week - which is practically a part-time job - I felt like I barely had time to absorb anything. My MO was to get shit done, which was easier once I found some people to work with... which leads to my next point, which is that the importance of teamwork in engineering coursework cannot be overly emphasized. A word of advice for anyone reading this going into engineering: find reliable people that you can compare/share homework with. If you're not confident that what you're handing in is already correct, by the time you get it back and find out it's wrong, you don't have time to relearn it.
Another word of advice: locate and use all possible resources. By this I mean solution manuals, teachers' solution manuals, a cramster account, former students' homework and assignments, etc. Trust me - when you know you have something reliable to double check your work with, life is much less stressful.
A run-down of my courses:

  • Math 101 (Calc 2) - The lectures were terrible and I gave up on them after the first 2 weeks. I basically taught myself out of the textbook. But that was actually not too painful except for the last few sections on expressing functions as power series and the Taylor series. Like most math courses, if you do enough practice problems, you're good. 
  • Physics 101 - This course covered a ton of material and it was pretty tough, by my standards, anyway. We covered gravitation, pressure, fluids (Bernoulli, buoyancy, etc.), thermodynamics, heat engines, wave functions, standing waves, doppler effect, beats, electric fields, gauss' law, point charges, dipoles... the list goes on. I'm sure half of it has already fallen out of my brain. The labs were totally unrelated to the lecture material - mostly about electricity - and were actually easier than the labs in Physics 100. Or maybe I just managed to follow their marking system. Sometimes, things are marked in a dumb way, but as long as it's consistent, you can give them what they want. That's all I will say about that. Also, they have this 24-hour due date policy with physics labs. It made a lot of people unhappy, but it didn't bother me that much. I wanted to get it off my plate as quickly as possible anyway, so I always just handed it in the same day.
  • Chem 101 - Pretty much followed the same format and style as Chem 100. Same professor (Dr. Whitcombe). We did a lot of acid/base/solubility ICE tables. He makes it pretty straightforward.
  • Chem 121 - This 1-credit lab course was the bane of my existence. The marking scheme was punitive and I found it discouraging, much like last semester. 
  • Ensc 150 (Environmental Engineering) - By far the most interesting course of the whole year. Dr. Helle is a great instructor - good lecturer, approachable, and helpful. We covered interesting topics like how everything is toxic, figuring out how much chemical is in or moving through soils/air/water, risk levels, mass balances, etc. I found this course challenging, but some of the 2nd years in the class said it was easy. Maybe some of the courses they had already taken gave them a big advantage.
  • Ensc 151 (Engineering tools) - Another 1-credit lab course. This one was not bad though since we learned how to use some presumably useful and important software: Excel, Visio, ArcMaps, and AutoCAD. I thought this class was interesting.
On a whiny note, I don't like that lab courses are only worth 1 credit when they are 3 hours a week just like lectures, and we end up spending the same amount or more time on them (particularly for chemistry). 
And now, back to my summer...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Canadian Wildlife: Dr. Geist lecture

On a whim, I attended a lecture given by Dr. Valerius Geist about the future of Canadian wildlife, which was extremely interesting. Dr. Geist is very engaging and approachable.  So much that I even started taking notes on a topic on which I know basically nothing.
A few points:
  • The need to keep wildlife as a public resource, so it does not turn into a private plaything for the elite (as it has been in other places).  This 2009 article, The Peasant Wars, has some great quotes:

    “The miracle of North American conservation is that it is basically a blue-collar system, grounded in the political and financial support and the active participation of large numbers of middle-class citizens who bring their basic honesty and decency to bear on important issues. This is just the opposite of the elitist system that has existed throughout Europe for centuries and is spreading like cancer around the world today, even right here at home.

    “Because of the democratic nature of American hunting and wildlife management, and the demands for accountability it implies, our system has worked miracles in returning wildlife to a continent that, just a hundred years ago, saw the near-extinction of most big game animals and other wildlife. In my mind, this represents the world’s greatest environmental achievement of the last century.”
    “Take away wildlife or make it irrelevant to the citizen, and wildlife winds up as private property, jealously defended. There is good reason for this as wildlife is a creator of wealth and privilege and thus very valuable.
    Currently, simple-minded efforts to spread and multiply wolves lead to a depletion of wildlife – severe enough to lose the hunting public and with that the passion for wildlife. And with that it moves very surely into private ownership.
    “And when wolves, grizzly bears and cougars are private property, the public has no say over their fate. I need not emphasize that even in North America the de facto grasp for wildlife by large land owners has led to the defense of that wildlife against the public with force of arms."

  • Game farming is another step in the wrong direction.

    • Destroys wildlife as the first step is domestication. Animals are bred to be placid and lose fear; domestication is not a conditioned response - it is genetic.
    • Large handlers create a trophy market. However, large antlers are only seen on bulls in the wild who don't breed... so from a farming perspective, this doesn't make a lot of sense. This is also seen in bison farming, where they are bred for trophies and to resemble large cows for the choice cuts of meat.
    • Quickly become centres of disease and pathogens, which soon become bridges of transmission to other animals and humans. Elk farming resulted in predicted epidemics of bovine tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease in the 1990s. CWD is particularly worrisome as it is transmitted via fluids and can jump species.
    • Dr. Geist is quoted in an article from 2000 in The Atlantic, Money Game, which discusses game farming from a more financial perspective, but also addresses the same biological and health concerns.
  • Wolves
    • Traditionally considered vermin and actively hunted and killed, but became protected and idolized by conservation groups. Populations are increasing rapidly to the point where there are scarcely any deer left.
    • Have no natural predators, like cougars.
    • Will interbreed with any canine, like coyotes and domesticated dogs.
    • Geist suggests a need to curb this population as soon as possible. Because they breed so quickly, killing 80% of the population would be required just to maintain status quo.
    • Wolves/coyotes/canines carry and spread hydatid disease, also known as echinococcosis. This is one nasty parasite for which there is no treatment other than surgical removal of cysts and chemotherapy. (Geist reported a 90% infection rate for the wolf population - I didn't get the details on which one.) The eggs are in their feces and are easily transmitted through the air or liquids to dogs and humans.  This parasite is no joke. I didn't need to see some of the pictures that I happened to run across. Ugh.
    • Dr. Geist knows of no case where humans and wolves co-existed.
    • Are becoming a danger to livestock and humans, as their natural prey are running out. In light of the death of a student attacked and killed by wolves, his article: Where Wolves Have Become Commonsums up these issues nicely.
    • The January 2010 issue of The Outdoorsman also provides quite a lot of information about the concern of hydatid disease. It's quite disconcerting.
Very interesting. Also, a little unsettling.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Degree 1/9th complete

I don't know whether to be inspired or depressed by that. The journey has begun, and it's good to be, well, not at the very beginning anymore, but it seems like a very long way to go.
Notes from last semester:

  • Math 100 turned out to be not so bad. The prof never actually asked us to regurgitate math definitions and theorems, only apply them. All that agony for nothing.
  • Chem 120 (lab) was a pretty bad experience. More on that in a later post.
  • I studied for the physics final like I've never studied for anything. And it turned out okay. Not amazing, but all right. Now that we're onto waves and pressure and other stuff, I can push all that kinematics to the remote regions of my brain.

Starting again this semester was difficult, for a number of reasons. For one, the break didn't feel long enough and I wasn't ready to start again. However, here I am, into week 2, and it's not so bad after all. On the schedule this semester is the following:

  • Math 101 - Calculus 2
  • Physics 111 - Waves and Electricity
  • Chem 101 - General Chemistry 2
  • Chem 120 (Lab)
  • Ensc 150 - Fundamentals of Environmental Engineering
  • Ensc 151 - Engineering Tools
Ensc 150 is quite interesting and has a lot of practical application, like converting between science-y and industry units for concentrations, and figuring out things like how much of a toxic spill will evaporate and how fast, etc, etc. It's meant to be a first year course, but there are a lot of second year students in it. It's probably incredibly easy for them, since most of them have already done organic/biochemistry and physical chemistry, material and energy balance and hydrology. (Read: I feel and probably look like an idiot asking questions.) The prof is good, but his notes are sometimes hard to follow because he skips steps. All you teachers out there: please write down everything.