March 30th, 2006

krazy koati

Forever's gonna start tonight

A student came to me after class. I think I forgot to write my name on my answer script for last week. That could be. I haven't looked at the answers yet, because I've been trying desperately to write my final exams. I asked her to e-mail me so if there was an unsigned paper I could give her that score. But I don't think I remembered to sign my paper. That was fine; if she e-mailed me and I had exactly one anonymous paper I'd know whose it was. But I didn't type it out, I did it by hand. Well, yes, but with an e-mail then I'd have her name on hand where I couldn't miss it when I was entering grades. Oh. She e-mailed me three hours later.

Meanwhile it is the season to write final exams, which won't be deployed against students for a month. It's hard enough writing a good exam question -- it should be efficiently written, have a distinct solution, and be something a person interested in a subject would or would like to know. On top of that I like to add touches of humor, or to have several questions enjoy some thematic unity. For the quantum mechanics course this is pretty much hopeless; any questions that can be done in an exam's timespan and without computer aid is either too simple to put on an exam or was already a homework question.

I also had exams for other instructors' courses to review, and they went fine except for triggering my old copy-editing instincts. It's one thing to be bothered by a multiple-choice question where three of the four presented answers are defensible, or when the antecedents to the pronouns in the question are unclear. When I start fussing over whether sub-questions should be identified with letters as 4a through 4d rather than lowercase Roman numerals, 4(i) through 4(iv), or noticing that one problem is written in the past tense while the others are present, then I know my instincts are leading me astray.

Is it wrong of me to be working eight-bit computer in-jokes to the assignments and exam questions for my programming course? I'll probably give an A+ in the course to anyone who notices I slipped the Commodore PET killer poke in there.

Trivia: French astronomer Jules Janssen fled the 1870 siege of Paris by hot air balloon -- despite fierce winds at the time -- to observe an eclipse in Algeria. Source: Einstein's Clocks, Poincaré's Maps, Petter Galison. While today's eclipse wouldn't have been visible in Singapore anyway, it still rained, admittedly not a rare event.

Currently Reading: Engineering in History, Richard Shelton Kirby, Sidney Withington, Arthur Burr Darling, Frederic Gridley Kilgour.