Standardized testing

I’ve found that when I do poorly on a test I tend to criticize testing in general, so here goes.

Anyone else notice a huge discrepancy between what we are tested on on the SAT, MCAT, ACT, or whatever [A-Z]*T test that we take versus what is expected of us when we enter college and the workforce? On those tests, you’re given a calculator, a pencil and your brain and expected to compete with the rest of your classmates. However, when you enter college you’re encouraged to collaborate with other students, be resourceful and persistent in your research, and there’s usually no multiple choice.

One of the things that was nice about having a programming background when taking those tests was that if a question came up that was a) tedious or b) somewhat hard, I was generally able to write a quick program on my trusty TI-83 to solve the problem. I don’t think it’s cheating – it was using my resources available to solve the problem. But there’s no question that I was at an advantage over the other students because I was able to better utilize my existing tools. A comparable example would be if you were expected to take the test with a pencil that could only write X amount of words or numbers, and I was allowed to take the same test with a pencil that was able to write 100 times more.

So in this way, those tests are unfair. But I also think it’s a tad counterproductive. Students who study for those tests stay up for nights memorizing facts that, once they go to college or enter the workforce, they’ll be able to do a quick Google search to find the answer. Why not test students on problems that are more relevant?

What I would propose is the following: a 2-hour test that is a similar format to the ones currently in place, followed by a 1-hour group exam (or perhaps move the group exam to the front, to avoid anyone looking at the door). The idea here would be to group the entire testing room into groups of four or five, and those students would move into seperate areas of the room to take the group test together. Each student is responsible for writing down their own answer, but the tests would be graded as a group so work could be divided evenly without repeititon.

What does this accomplish? First, a sense of what a real job will be like – having access to other group members will be like having co-workers and colleagues in the real world. Second, real problems can be assigned – problems that are actually challenging and provide a sense of accomplishment when completed. And finally, colleges wil be able to see how students perform in groups. This would be incredibly useful knowledge to colleges that are trying to make decisions on students.

And there’s my little rant on standardized testing and education in general. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: education is the single most important issue to our country today – most of the problems with today’s United States can be traced to education, or lack thereof, and its effects on adult decision-making.

Apple

Saw an article on Slashdot about how Apple seems to be intentionally slowing down competitors’ software. I’m not really sure why this is a win for anyone – as Apple, don’t you want people to be able to use the software they want to use? If you want them to use Safari, make it not suck!

It’s another issue in a long line of issues I have with the browser wars. To summarize, I have no idea why what you browse with should matter at all. And in fact, that’s what groups such as the World Wide Web Consortium aim to fix – in their belief, every page should look the same, regardless of which browser you visit from.

Many of you who read this blog probably know that my browser of choice is Internet Explorer 7. But Jimmy, you ask, confused, “You just said you wanted standards compliance, which is what IE famously avoids. What’s up with that?” I use IE7 because, and this may sound cliche but I don’t really care, everyone else does. And because everyone else does, every web developer out there may curse under their breath every time they have to fix something for Microsoft, but they’ll do it because right now, IE has over 50% market share. And to be fair, many of the standards that are now in place came into place AFTER Internet Explorer first implemented their own versions (ActiveX is a good example).

In essence, IE has good reasons for not being as 100% standards-compliant as maybe it could be – a lot of Microsoft software relies on these proprietary standards for it to work properly. The plus side is that we get some cool technology, and the down side is that it doesn’t work perfectly in every browser, but because IE is free and Windows is installed on over 90% of the world’s computers… I’m willing to overlook the occasional standards headache if I get technology such as Windows Update that wouldn’t work in any other browser. And even though Microsoft really has no reason to change, no reason to get better, they continue to do so – IE8 is supposed to be even more standards-compliant.

The title of this post is “Apple”, and yet I’m talking about IE7. So I’ll switch back to Apple and ask, “Why?” Why, Apple, did you even create Safari? Why not publish these faster APIs so that browsers such as Firefox and Opera can run well on your OS? For all Apple says about being standards-compliant and welcoming to software developers, they’re not. In fact, every product Apple has ever created tries to reinvent the wheel – they never create something truly new, like every Apple fanboy claims. Fortunately for them, a lot of the time they do a nice job doing so.

And by the way, out of the four browsers I have installed on my Windows machine, Safari is my last choice – it eats up 150+ MB of RAM compared to about 50 for IE7, 40 for Firefox and 20 for Opera, looks ugly, and doesn’t offer anything new.

Blogger vs. Blogger

So it looks like we’ll have another platform war, albeit this time we’ll probably be arguing about Linux vs. Windows, Democratic vs. Republican as opposed to vJournal vs. McJournal. Anyway, welcome back to the blogosphere, Mike. (And you’re welcome for linking my 11 visitors/day to your site, by the way.)

Watched the debate last night. As our favorite Stanley Hudson would say, “This here is a run-out-the-clock situation. Just like upstairs,” and that’s what Obama did. It was pretty interesting to watch Hillary try to feel out her best strategy kind of as she went – she came out swinging but pulled back a little bit later on. Another thing I noticed, when Tim Russert asked Obama about the anti-Semintic supporter who “endorsed” Obama, Clinton tried to take that opportunity to make Obama mess up but Obama was able to correct himself in time. (For the record, he was right – it’s a free country, whoever wants to support him should be able to support him, he can’t stop them.)

I’m getting pretty sick of these endorsements, on that topic. I read today that Senator Sherrod Brown is not going to endorse a candidate. What a huge loss! First of all, anyone know who Sherrod Brown is? If you do, does anyone care who he supports for President? Are we all on pins and needles like, “Whoever Brown endorses is sure to work directly with him every day to make sure what Sherrod Brown wants gets done…this could be huge”?

Maybe for some of you the answer is yes, but for me, I couldn’t care less who Sherrod Brown, Oprah Winfrey, Jon Stewart, or Chris Rock wants to be president, and it must be annoying to CNN and Fox News to analyze these meaningless trivialities. That’s not to say there aren’t meaningful endorsements: Madeleine Albright (Bill Clinton’s former secretary of state, supporting Clinton), Ted Kennedy (Senator, supporting Obama), Rudy Giuliani (ex-presidential candidate, supporting McCain) or Chuck Norris (Dr. Awesome, supporting Huckabee… okay, maybe that last one is a little meaningless, but still cool). My point is that I don’t care who Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, 50 Cent, Terrell Owens, or Peyton Manning wants to be president.

Saving Private Ryan

Another night of insomnia.

As I’m scanning through the channels looking for something to watch, I came across the Case movie channel which is showing Saving Private Ryan. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this movie, even longer since I’ve watched it without doing something else. It’s a tough movie to watch, but if you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself, your country and the people who fight for it to watch this movie at least once without interruptions. There may be no such thing as the Great American Novel, but to me, the Great American Movie is Saving Private Ryan.

World War II was probably the last war that all Americans agree was a good war to fight. It was really pretty simple who the enemies were and fairly simple to figure out how to win the war. Every American knew the problem, and an overwhelming amount of those Americans contributed to the effort: they went into the military abroad, manned the factories on the homefront, solved the world’s greatest cryptological puzzles, and risked being abandoned by the United States government to collect intelligence for our country. Everyone knew what the stakes were, everyone did what they could to contribute; there was no one to credit or blame for winning the war: only because everyone contributed did we prevail.

And even as I say that, I wonder if everyone who contributed realized what was happening as it was happening, or if it just went by too quickly. In other words, did the soldiers on D-Day ever have that moment where they looked around them and said, “Wow…”? Take Richard Winters, a member of the 506th regiment of the 101st Airborne in World War II, for example: did he realize back then that books would be written, mini-series would be created honoring his contributions? I doubt it, but its interesting to think about.

A few messages that I’m hearing as I watch this movie:

  1. War is terrible, but necessary. This statement seems contradictory, but I think its showcased best in the scene that’s on the screen as I type this, where the squad first arrives in Neuville during a rainstorm. Some important symbolism here is the German propaganda that is echoing through the town. Ask yourself, what are the soldiers fighting for? Oversimplifying it a bit, those soldiers are fighting for the right to not live in town where fear-based propaganda echoes through the streets. And as much as those soldiers perhaps wanted to be somewhere else or on a different mission, they do their best to go about their business, which relates to the next point.
  2. Everybody makes mistakes; nobody is perfect. This one is pretty self-explanatory, but I think at the end, when Ryan asks his wife to tell him he’s a good man and that he’s led a good life, this point is driven home. Ryan didn’t deserve to be rescued: he didn’t “go home and cure polio”, as Miller hoped, and he was no better than Miller, Horvath or any of the other soldiers who died to save him. All we can do in life is to do our absolute best to deserve it. This is a great allusion to Christianity – no one deserves to be saved, but through God’s grace we can be.

On a lighter note, does anyone else think that Upham (the coward, played by Jeremy Davies) looks a bit like Orlando Bloom? Maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s uncanny…

Campaign Finance Reform

I don’t know if anyone noticed this, but I put some ads on this blog because a) it was easy, and b) it’s a great way to earn an extra 30 cents a month. Google AdSense, which handles those ads as well as a lot of others you see around the web, looks at the content of the page currently being viewed and generates ads that match keywords in that text – so AdSense on www.indians.com would probably serve baseball-related ads.

Anyway, I find it somewhat humorous that as I view this blog today, all of my ads are related to the current presidential campaign. Campaign finance reform, eh? I think every candidate should tell every voter to visit my blog for more information regarding who to vote for.

P.S. I just thought of this – what would happen if Google AdSense was installed on Google AdSense’s website? My theory is that the Internet would blow up.

The 2008 Cleveland Indians: Major League II

And here it is! The long-awaited preview blog for the 2008 Cleveland Indians season. Before I begin, what a 2007 it was! Much like the original Major League, the Indians were a bunch of upstarts who rallied in the end to beat the Yankees, but, as we found out in Major League II, the Indians lost in the ALCS to the…wait for it…White Sox.

So maybe it’s not exactly like the movie.

But anyway, here we go. I’ll start with a to-do list of what I would do if I were Mark Shapiro (and thus what I believe he should do before Spring Training is over.

The To-Do List

  1. Trade Cliff Lee, David Delucci and Andy Marte for whatever I can get. Marte being traded is provisional based on his play during Spring Training, but I anticipate that it wouldn’t be good enough to merit keeping him. Marte has obvious issues playing in cold weather, which is a problem not only in the beginning of the year but in the playoffs as well, and to me does not provide an upgrade defensively or offensively at third.

    As for Cliff Lee, he is part of a trio of left-handed starters (joined by Aaron Laffey and Jeremy Sowers). The Indians’ future, in my mind, has room for two left-handed starters (barring injury), so who is traded is really a matter of personal preference, but a trade is necessary. Of the three starters, Lee is the oldest, is paid the most, but probably has the most trade value due to his experience. He is signed through 2009, and was paid $3 million last year, making him a relative bargain for a team like Tampa Bay who is looking to build for the future and has room to take some risks – and Tampa Bay is loaded with prospects.

    Finally, David Delucci. Nothing against the guy, I just feel that Ben Francisco/Shin-Soo Choo is our future left fielder and that Delucci is good trade bait. Of the three, he’s the one I don’t mind keeping as much.

  2. Make an offer to C.C. This should be obvious. I’m not saying sign him, necessarily – to me, he has a lot to prove in the postseason – but an offer should be made. I would give him the years he wants (which is rumored to be about 5) and maybe offer about $20 million a year. That’s far less than Santana got and a deal I think the Indians would be thrilled with. If we don’t sign him now though, don’t panic – we still have plenty of time.

A pretty short to-do list. But that’s a credit to Shapiro’s work so far, he’s done a heck of a job.

Opening Day Lineups

On March 31, the Indians will take the field at Progressive Field (hold your groans please) against the Chicago White Sox. I’ll assume Mark Buehrle (had to check the spelling) will start for the Sox, against C.C. for the Indians. Here’s my proposed starting lineup:

CF. Grady Sizemore
2B. Asdrubal Cabrera
DH. Travis Hafner
1B. Ryan Garko
C. Victor Martinez
SS. Jhonny Peralta
LF. Ben Francisco
RF. Franklin Gutierrez
3B. Casey Blake

On the bench: Jamey Carroll (INF), Josh Barfield (INF), David Delucci (LF), Kelly Shoppach (C).

Rotation: C.C. Sabathia, Fausto Carmona, Jake Westbrook, Aaron Laffey, Paul Byrd

The lineup might surprise you a bit – I’m a huge Ben Francisco fan ever since I saw him play for the Captains, and he did a great job in the beginning of the summer too – and also, Buehrle is left-handed. As for the rotation, I put Laffey ahead of Byrd in order to stagger the right-handers and left-handers (LHP, RHP, RHP, LHP, RHP).

And finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for…

Predictions

AL East: Red Sox
AL Central: Indians
AL West: Mariners (kind of an upset pick – but Bedard/Hernandez will help)
AL Wild Card: Tigers (Yankees don’t make it!)

NL East: Mets
NL Central: Cubs (I picked the Pirates last year, look where that got me)
NL West: Padres
NL Wild Card: Phillies

AL Champions: Indians (they did it in Major League II, right?)
NL Champions: Mets

World Series: Indians (Johan Santana? Pffff….we beat this guy 5 times last year)

And just for good measure…

AL MVP: Curtis Granderson
NL MVP: Ryan Howard

AL Cy Young: Fausto Carmona
NL Cy Young: …wait for it…Johan Santana

Biggest liar (between Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds): Clemens

And there you have it…my official pre-Spring Training blog for the 2008 season. Comment if you will, and we’ll see you on Opening Day!

McJournal 7 Source

A bit of an announcement to make: I’m open-sourcing McJournal 7. You can access the source at https://bitbucket.org/jimmysawczuk/mcjournal-7.

A couple of things to note:

  1. I make no guarantees about this code. It’s what ran the site from July 1, 2005 until I took it down last September, but that doesn’t mean it will work on your server. For one thing it takes advantage of some features (i.e. Register_globals) that are no longer encouraged for use.
  2. By open-sourcing the code, I don’t mean for anyone to simply take this and start their own McJournal. It’s for informational purposes and perhaps helpful purposes only.
  3. I didn’t look at the code at all, and thus it’s probably pretty bad. Don’t make fun of me, it was almost three years ago. I didn’t really do much commenting either.
  4. You can’t sell it. You’re free to use whatever you want, but don’t sell it.
  5. The MySQL DB creation script is located in /data. It’ll create the structure of the DB only, but won’t populate anything (you’ll need to populate SOME things for the site to run at all).

Enjoy!

Insomnia

My sleep schedule has been incredibly erratic the last few months… and I’m not really sure why. A few tidbits while I try to get some sleep:

  • I think this week I’ll be able to post my official pre-MLB 2008 blog. I’m really looking forward to it, as I am looking forward to the start of the 2008 MLB season.
  • Caught a bit of the Pro Bowl today. Nice to see some Browns on the field again, even though none of them had particularly standout games. If it were me I would start shopping Derek Anderson for some defense – we’ve seen what Brady Quinn can do, and I think Anderson’s best value to this team may be in the form of a trade. With the offensive line the Browns now have, even a mediocre quarterback could do the job, especially with a good defense, and I doubt Quinn will be mediocre.
  • The strike is over. Looks like some of my favorites will be back, including The Office, HIMYM, and House (Heroes and 24 are probably goners for this season).
  • Huckabee continues to fight. He’s making it an interesting race – if things go well for him in the “Potomac Primaries” it’ll be much less of a longshot than it is today. As for the Democrats, Obama continues to make strides and Hillary Clinton is shaking things up.
  • It’s nearly 4 AM and I have class at 9. Good thing I bought some Starbucks Breakfast Blend today, I’m probably going to need it.
  • It was this time last week that I remembered why I love sports. Week 1 of the “Sports Blackout” is over, and by the end of this week baseball will be more or less underway.
  • Temperature check:
    Are you kidding me?

A Super 72 hours

I always have an hour break between my first two classes on Wednesday, and I think typing this blog is the only way I’ll be able to stay awake, so a couple cool things from the past three days to discuss.

First, the Super Bowl. People are calling it one of the greatest upsets of all time, and while I’m not sure about that, I am sure that it’s the greatest Super Bowl game I’ve ever seen, and probably will see for some time. Good for Eli Manning, too. Finally, he can get some of the critics off his back. The play that defined it for me was the one that probably defined it for everyone, where three Patriot pass-rushers had Manning sacked, and he somehow wrangled away from their grasp, set his feet, and threw a perfect pass to David Tyree which he pinned against his helmet as he fell to the ground. What a game.

As everyone knows, Super Tuesday was yesterday. I didn’t get to watch much of the coverage (AI is gonna’ kill me), but I was able to tune in to CNN and Fox News last night as I was going to sleep. Both networks seemed absolutely flabbergasted that Huckabee won anything, much less pretty much swept the south. It was fun to watch, because the media is doing all it can to get the Republicans down to a two-horse race, and Huckabee pulled himself into contention again yesterday (it’s a longshot, but there is a lot of backlash against McCain right now and it’s building). Also, way to go, Romney, suggesting that Huckabee concede; turns out he might have been right. :) As for what happens from here on out, I think it may be too late for Huckabee or Romney to win the nomination outright, but I think what might happen is that they could combine for enough delegates so that no one reaches the target of 1191, meaning that the Republican nominee would be decided during the Republican National Convention this summer.

As for the Democrats, it was good to see Obama continue that momentum. He’s still trailing, but this race was supposed to be over by now, so the fact that he’s very much alive definitely has to be a postiive for the Obama campaign.

Personally, I’m just working through all of the coursework of being a junior at Case. The aforementioned AI assignment was a rough one; it involved implementing three types of path-finding algorithms on grids that have obstacles and may vary in size. A cool project, but I didn’t finish until about 10 PM last night, which, considering the fact that was due today, was cutting it a tad close.

Speaking of code, I finally got hosting over at DreamHost, and created my cool little homework repository last night, as well as a repository for my projects (non-website code and video-editing stuff). I’m still working on ways to utilize all of that space; right now, I’m using about 600 MB of about 500 GB that I’m given, so I’m open to ideas.

That’s all I got for right now; should have some interesting project-related news in the near future.