Maybe It’s A Metaphor

June 5, 2011 at 8:51 PM | Posted in Journal | Leave a comment
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I went back to school in 2001.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.
In the fall, I hemmed and hawed and finally got around to it, thinking I was too late–
But there was a Saturday class, Intro to Computers, that I needed to take before I took anything else.  And it hadn’t started yet.  Oh.  Okay.  I guess I’m in.
It was an easy, easy class, a perfect way for me to get back into the school groove.  And it paved the way for other classes I wanted to take for my degree.  Starting in January of 02, I took 12 credit hours.
Keep in mind that I was working two jobs at the time.
Two of the classes were fairly in line with each other, and these were 100-level computer classes.  One was Hardware and Software Support–essentially the knowledge for an A+ certification.  The other class was Software and Hardware Concepts.
Think of it as “Turing meets Buddha.”
Maybe it wasn’t supposed to be this way, but the instructor who taught it was a PhD in–God, I *hope* it was Computer Science.  I never asked.
In this class we got a brief rundown of all computer topics.  Starting with math, we went from binary to octal to decimal to hex, with explanations on why and how.
We also learned how computers thought and made decisions, using Boolean algebra.  And we learned a little of the various layers of communication between a computer and a human:  machine language, assembly code, command line basic, and up into C++ and VB–Visual Basic.
I really felt that we were–or I was, anyway–learning the deep secrets of the inner workings of the machine.  Kind of like Tron.
So, this was a 100 level class, like IS 110 or something like that.  Pretty basic stuff.  The class began with about 24 students, a pretty good turnout.  By mid-term, there were about 18 of us.
After the mid-term, there were 12.
Nine of us passed the class.
Bob, the instructor, was a nice guy.  I liked him.  He was obviously smart as hell, too.  Although he didn’t show it, I imagine he held stupid people in contempt.  I respect that.  He had a fairly simple two-step process for weeding out the idiots:  the mid-term and the final.
Okay, the rules were the same on each test:
1) multiple choice
2) take home
3) use any resource whatsoever that you want, but no collaboration between students
Wow!  This was great!  This was going to be one of the great blow-off classes of all time!  How hard can it be, if it’s multiple choice *AND* take home?
I’ll tell you how hard it can be:  They were hands-down the hardest tests I have ever taken in my life, and probably the only time I EVER did any real thinking.
What made them so hard?  Well, it wasn’t a traditional multiple choice test.  The first pages of the test were just the questions, fifty of them.
The last page was the answers.  Twenty sets of A-B-C-D.  The answer to a given question could be ANY ONE of the 80 answers on that page.
The midterm was handed out on a Wednesday, and we had until Monday.  It wasn’t enough time.
It’s a bit blurry for me now–I wish I had the test still.  I don’t think Bob wanted it to get into the wrong hands, though.  If I had known that, I would have made a copy of it.
However, we turned them in, and then when we got them back graded, we went over them question by question.  Bob was willing to make concessions based on valid arguments and vague wording of questions.  I know that I initially got a B on it, but we successfully argued some that I got wrong, and worked my way up to an A.

By the time the final came around, we were less enthusiastic about the “easy” take home test we were given.  Same deal, just as hard.  Maybe harder, because we hoped at this point we would have an understanding of the style and that would give us a small step up.
No, it didn’t.
As I said, we lost students throughout the semester.  On the day we turned in our final, three guys just dropped it off on his desk and then left.
Bob graded them all quickly–about 12 tests–then handed them back to us for us to go over and argue.
Again we were able to successfully make our case on about a dozen questions.  I gained a few points, as did everyone else.
Of course, the students that dropped and walked did not partake of that luxury.
Yes, the moral and the object lesson contained herein are left as an exercise for the student.  You will be graded on your answers.  In fact, you always are–but this time I’m telling you.

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