26 Mar 2007

Astonishing, really

I think I mentioned last year that the College Board runs its AP readings like a well-oiled machine; they know exactly what to do, how to do it, and thousands upon thousands of booklets are graded consistently and efficiently. Which is why it's so completely amazing how badly organised they are in the run-up to the reading. It's like it's not even the same people.

For instance, today I received a letter that was printed onto ETS stationery and then photocopied; it appears to be a form letter to all 2007 AP readers. It instructs me to go to a website and type in a username and password—this is the same login for everyone, mind you—to get into their site, where I am to click "AP messages" (this is the only link on the page), and then print out the housing form, which I am to fill out and mail to them, in the business reply envelope they mailed to me.

Now, you might think this was to save them separately stuffing envelopes for each separate reading site (the form is site specific), but no: because also in the dead-tree mailing was a purple form asking me to respond "Yes, I PLAN TO ATTEND" or "No, I DO NOT PLAN TO ATTEND" for a baseball game that is specific to my reading site. So evidently all this was to, maybe, save them the cost of photocopying one sheet of paper per mailing.

And the form, which I had to print out, and which is specific to the The College of New Jersey reading site, not only makes me fill in things like which subject I'm reading for and what my position is, but also my date of arrival and date of departure. Which we've elsewhere been told is not at all optional: we must arrive on the night before the reading, and we must depart on the morning after. And yet, the actual dates of the reading? Nowhere on the form. Of course.

Some details do seem to be at least marginally better this year. For instance, the travel agent they outsource to has finally updated their https cert so that you don't have to override the failed security measure. But, their page still sucks, so that (for instance) there's no way for me to find out what kind of a train schedule they'd book me with (preferable, but not if there are long layovers) without first committing to travel by train. And heaven help you if you've got a complicated travel plan, like maybe only needing a one-way ticket since you're thinking of continuing from there to someplace else. *sigh*

"When heart disease remains such a menacing killer, focusing so much attention on relieving its symptoms seems a little like celebrating the victory over Darth Maul when you know that Palpatine's plan is still unfolding like clockwork." --Keith Winstein

Posted by blahedo at 10:14pm | Comments (0)

24 Mar 2007

Successful linguification

The folks over at Language Log (well, mostly just Geoff Pullum) rail with some regularity against what they've termed "linguification": using a linguistic claim about a situation as a metaphor for the actual situation. The canonical linguification would be something like this:

I wouldn't even mention Sam in the same sentence as Alex.
Taken literally, this is obviously false (the speaker just did mention them in the same sentence), and Pullum complains that this is abusive of linguistics, and not at all the same thing as hyperbole.

I don't really buy it.

I mean, a lot of the examples do show an unfortunate dearth of linguistic training, as when people make claims like "I don't use adjectives or adverbs; I exclusively use good solid nouns and verbs" in order to make some claim about the forcefulness of their discourse, usually contradicting themselves immediately by using adjectives and adverbs (like "exclusively", "good", and "solid"). But in at least some cases, a linguification can be quite effective as a rhetorical device. In today's column "An image tarnished", Eric Zorn concludes:

Police Supt. Philip Cline has said the right things about the attack: "It was disgusting. It was despicable conduct. ... The fact that he is a police officer is even more damning."

But to understand why this story is so big and feels so ominous to so many, he needs to look beyond the attack. Cynical, street-smart Chicagoans are weary of adjectives. They want answers.

Now that's what I call linguification!

"I think sometimes we focus a little too much attention on whiz-bang medical technology (like stents) while losing the broader picture that, basically, the only things we have found to save people from the #1 killer is what you learned in second-grade nutrition lessons." --Keith Winstein

Posted by blahedo at 2:15pm | Comments (0)

23 Mar 2007

Yup, it's spring all right

Forecast: Thunderstorms, Thunderstorms, Thunderstorms...

Seeds of democracy,
Nurtured with honesty,
Become our liberty
When we share the load. --Dan Berggren, "From every mountain side"

Posted by blahedo at 4:30pm | Comments (1)

22 Mar 2007

A frustrating day in the life...

Well, the evening went better, but the morning stank. First, I overslept my alarm and didn't get up until just after 10, so I didn't have time to do anything but print out my syllabi and rush to class. Fortunately, I'd prepped out my examples last night, but I was meaning to read them over and make sure all the software in the lab was set up right, before class started. Ah well. Class itself went fine, I guess, although I didn't cover as much as I'd planned. Fortunately, I hadn't printed out the homework yet, so I was able to edit it and remove the stuff we hadn't gotten to.

Then it was lunchtime. I'm still used to the crazy amount of time I had last term, when I was teaching 2-6 (I'm doing 3-6 this term), and so I didn't even get to lunch until the beginning of 5th. Got back to my office, checked email, and then as I was going to print out the labs, I noticed that I'd never finished editing them from the previous term's version. Ended up cutting the second half of the lab handout entirely, giving them the first half of the lab, and then setting everything up while they did that so that I could wing it through a lecture on the java compiler and unit testing, so they could do the second half of the lab. And then I forgot to tell them how to set up their CLASSPATH (it's a ... no, nevermind, it doesn't even matter), so I had to type it in on the projector and then tell them how to do it themselves, reading off words like "tcshrc" and generally making a hash of the part of lab that goes pretty well when they actually see it all written on a piece of paper in front of them.


Then I went home and took a nap, taught my ballroomers how to to a cuban walk and a tango open left turn, grabbed coffee, got distracted into a long (though excellent) conversation with a few of them in the Gizmo, and now I'm back in my office, looking at what will be my fourth night in a row of working here past midnight.

That said, I do get a lot of work done when I do this. So maybe it's not so bad....

You and I will someday win
'Cause no one owns the wind or sun. --Dan Berggren, "Power from above"

Posted by blahedo at 10:18pm | Comments (0)

19 Mar 2007

Burning the almost-midnight oil

Spring term starts on Wednesday, and for the second night in a row I find myself in my office working to or past midnight on syllabi. It's a funny thing, syllabus development—you have to decide just what you're going to teach, and at least roughly when, and what the projects will be, and when the assignments will go out, without knowing at all what the tricky spots are going to be for the students in the class.

The good news is, two down, one to go. And of course I've done it backwards: yesterday, I did the one for the course I just finished teaching, which was therefore the easiest. Today, the one I've taught before, but differently and two years ago. The one that's left? The one I've never taught before. Of course.

"If the Church stopped protesting the Monologues and instead started engaging women in an honest, healthy and mature dialogue perhaps The Vagina Monologues would no longer be necessary. Until then, I'm afraid we women will have to remain content with a monologue and pray that someone is, at the very least, listening." --Sr. Mary Eve

Posted by blahedo at 11:47pm | Comments (2)

14 Mar 2007


When I've got a little time and think of it, I like wandering over to Paul Graham's site and reading an essay (even if I've read them all before—they tend to have good replay value). He rarely disappoints; he's geeky in all the right ways, and has well-placed priorities, and he's insightful and a good writer. So his essays tend to be pretty good.

Today I read his "Is it worth being wise?", and it answers an interesting question: What's the difference between intelligence and wisdom? His answer has to do with wisdom having a lower variance in ability to answer life's questions, but you should really go read his version.

I actually disagree to some extent. For instance, I would say that this essay is evidence of his wisdom, in this case representing his insightfulness and his ability to condense his insight and convey it well; but that is something that he would seem to put more in the "intelligence" column. I do think he's getting at something interesting, though, in that even if his "wisdom" doesn't map perfectly to my idea of "wisdom", it's certainly a different thing from what he calls "intelligence", and both are useful in their way. What I actually found most interesting in the essay was what he had to say about the implications for education in the modern world, towards the end of the essay.

So, something else to think about. I thought I'd throw it out there, especially for the folks out there who plan to be educators (and especially gifted educators).

"The path to wisdom is through discipline, and the path to intelligence through carefully selected self-indulgence." --Paul Graham

Posted by blahedo at 4:47pm | Comments (1)

Happy π day!

We're on spring break right now, so all the things I need to get accomplished seem a lot less pressing. Instead, I figured I'd check in here and post three things I thought about on my walk (more of a wander, really) in to work today.

[A new shop in Galesburg]First was that I noticed a new shop in Galesburg. I was walking down Broad and observed that the recently-vacated tiny storefront on Ferris (formerly Barb's Hitchin Post, and vacant a long time before that) appeared to be occupied again. I wandered a little closer to check it out. Now, the fact that there's a new shop in town would certainly not be blogworthy (it wasn't even the only one I saw this morning—the old thrift shop on Cherry is now a hair salon), but I had to take a picture of this place for the sign.

[A self-refuting sign]You probably can't make it out in the above photo, so here's a blow-up of the sign. I ask: if you were someone that had something to advertise or sell or just show off, would you hire this place to do the graphic design? Hint: no. This is not the scruffy barber problem; this is the marketing interview problem. There are ways to incorporate a Ferris wheel into the logo without violating principles of graphic design, but evidently these folks don't know them.

Further on in my wander, I accidentally bit off a small corner of the napkin with which I was holding my breakfast. Obviously, I took it out of my mouth and discarded it; but a moment later, as I finished the danish, I crumpled the (rest of the) napkin and stuck it in my pocket, since there was no trash can handy. Why was one littering and the other not? On reflection, I'm fairly sure that even the most fastidious non-litterers would, in picking a stray hair off a sweater or brushing dandruff or such things, just let them fall, even indoors. Because it'd get vacuumed up later and in the meantime wouldn't be particularly visible. So then (think I) what about in truly enclosed environments? I suppose you could still vacuum there, though, since a vacuum is really just a powerful fan blowing through a filter. And this led to the real thought of the morning: you know what you never saw on Star Trek? Even with all the walking down their long, curving hallways, you never once saw staff (human or robotic) vacuuming or cleaning it.

(Welcome to my brain, folks. Enjoy your stay!)

After stopping at an ATM, I was wandering through Seymour, and next to the publications office I saw a sign that said something like this: "Meetings every Tuesday in this door —>" So of course, I thought, "Really? It seems kind of narrow to fit even one person. What is it, an inch and a half wide, maybe?" Not that the meaning wasn't clear, of course, but what could I do? It's like I was channeling my father.

"My biggest problem is that we are trying to shoehorn abundance into scarcity because our economics are utterly unsuited for coping with abundance. It doesn't matter if you are talking about 'movies' or 'television' or 'youtube' or 'music' or 'programs': it's all data. There is only negligible cost associated with making a copy of data and distributing it. And after distributing it you still have it." --Sam Walker

Posted by blahedo at 12:15pm | Comments (3)

1 Mar 2007


Not going to get the Madwoman entry done tonight, either. I'm swamped with grading anyway, but whereas under other circumstances I might play it differently, I'm going to be gone all weekend at CBC; then I have to get a batch of grading done and finish writing exams for Monday; then, with the briefest of breaks, I head down to Cincinnati (well, Covington) for SIGCSE.

I don't think I've even touched my TV in two weeks, and there's been a lot of both-ends candle burning nearly every night. Yawn... well, back to homework grading.

"If you worked hard enough to earn your way into the womb of a woman living in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, it's your right to not have to suffer. Anything less would be communism, and those who say otherwise are jealous of the hard work that's gotten you to where you are now." --Greg Kaiser

Posted by blahedo at 11:58am | Comments (1)