April 22, 2006

1 Year Notice!

Yesterday, news was released that brought joy to my life. Dr. Alvin O. Austin, LeTourneau's very own President and father of the QEP, has tendered his 1 year notice of intent to retire. The clouds rolled back, the heavens were opened, and the angels started singing.

There remains a good deal of curiousity and speculation as to who will replace Fearless Leader. Will they hire from within (guh... I hope not), will they bring in a firm believer of the QEP (*shudder*), or will they finally bring in someone with an academic background? We can only hope LeTourneau might finally go back in the direction of academics.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 10:15 AM | TrackBack

April 20, 2006

The Use of Tests

In honor of Anna's students, who are hard at work testing, even as we speak:

I've always been a good test-taker. Among the earliest memories of my elementary education are getting called up to the teacher's desk to get a candy or a sticker or something as a reward for my grade having been among the highest in the class. Of course, at good ol' Rex Ralph, that wasn't exactly saying much... over half of the children in the class were socio-economically disadvantaged on a level comparable with the inner city, and besides that I had the advantage of having parents who cared about my learning and kept me supplied with books and math help and anything else I could need to be a good student.

As I came to get lazier throughout my education, my skills as a test-taker coupled with my ability to craft long, seemingly-meaningful essays on subjects about which I knew nothing got me through in the top 10% of my class with a minimal output of effort. I was an expert student of the point of diminishing returns on the effort-to-academic reward graph, and my effort nearly always sat right at that point, knowing full well that I could rely on my test-taking skills to take me the rest of the way.

It always came as a shock to me that people would hate tests. To me, testing was the most efficient way of raising your grade: 30-40 minutes worth of work (2 hours, tops) for the equivalent of the points yielded by several days worth of constant homework output. The concept that a test would be innately problematic was foreign, as was the concept that my ability would not be reflected, or even magnified, by the test.

It was not until the end of my second semester at college that I came to appreciate the hatred of testing that many others knew. Surprisingly, it wasn't the increased amount of study, the increased difficulty, or even the ease at which my professors cut through the dross of my iron-clad bs... it was a grossly unfair final at the end of Calculus 3.

To give you some perspective, Calculus 3 is probably the class at LeTourneau for which I did the most work (runner-up being Circuits 2, which I dropped before it eclipsed Calc 3 in sheer work output.) I did homework 2-3 hours a night, 3 days a week, pretty much without fail, all semester long. This is more of a testament to a group of guys on my floor who worked together than any great claim to academic fortitude which I might lay in my own right. We worked, and we cajoled and we tutored each other... in an area where I was weak, KorMex would give me guidance... and in areas where I actually knew what was going on (Series), I would attempt to explain the tutoring which I had received a year before in high school. We worked our asses off, and we got to the final, mostly holding steady at some form of B or low A. Toad and I figured that we needed some form of A or high B to get an A in the class, and then some form of low B through a C (or maybe even a D) to maintain a B. We took the final, and it was brutal. In the end, Toad and I both had C's.

So yeah, now I have something of an understanding of why people hate tests. And to make testing the almost sole metric of everything that a student learns in a year... that's just stupid. Granted, they are a more objective metric is some respects, but they are also flawed in that they exploit the weakness of any student with a hard time focusing, a lack of discipline (to take a test that could take hours to complete), and a lack of respect for one of the fundamental paradigms of education, which keeps repeating that testing shouldn't be the only thing used to judge the academic viability of a student. Single-faceted evaluations are almost universally considered a Bad Idea... and yet Texas and the nation as a whole (well, really, President Bush) keep pusing the notion that all we need is more testing in education.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 09:04 AM | TrackBack

Anna's Children

...no, we're not talking in a biological sense. However, today her students are taking the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) in the math subject area. A large percentage of the assessment for her performance this year as a teacher is based on how her weasels... er... students do on this test. So praying for them to pass might not be a bad idea... or at least pray that they'll be able to represent the hard work of their teacher, in spite of some of their worthless, slacking selves.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 08:29 AM | TrackBack

April 13, 2006

Blizzard Customer Support

As many of you know, I work in a job where I am frequently forced to spend time on the phone with the technical and customer support departments of a variety of major technology companies. In fact, just the other day, I spent an hour on hold trying to get to the "Advanced Technical Department" at Alltel... just so that the lady on the other end could realize that they had failed to correctly copy the serial number of a customer's PCMCIA Cellular Access card into their systems and thus he couldn't dial in... but I digress.

I must say that Blizzard has surpassed my lowest expectations of the standards to which I hold even the little ball of phlegm in the back of my throat.... but I get ahead of myself. As some of you may know, back in December, a misplaced credit card initiated a great panic that resulted in cancelling said account before the card was relocated. Well, both Anna's and my auto-bill accounts for World of Warcraft were on said card.... and while mine had been fixed, we had never gotten around to fixing hers.

Yesterday, the billing cycle was up and autobill hit the dead card, putting the account on freeze. So, in the evening, we got home and Anna tried to update the account online. The problem is, Blizzard's authentication servers are tied to their online account servers, which are in turn, also tied to the servers needed to transfer characters. Now, character transfer and authentication have lately been borked out of their minds, so online billing really wasn't an option... it was quite broken. Not that we didn't try for a half hour to get past the mine-field of borked server-dom.... but we failed miserably.

So... at this point, Anna began calling Blizzard. It's at this point that things got really interesting: "Blizzard Customer Billing is closed for a department meeting. Please call back between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Pacific Time or hold for the automated billing system."

Wait, so the WHOLE DEPARTMENT is closed?! Alright... I guess I have to hold. But then the message repeats... again, and again, and again. So maybe automated billing is a lie? So I expressed doubt in Anna's ability to negotiate Blizzard's phone systems, and she gratefully allowed me to try. Same result.

So I tried online... and repeated, ad nauseum. And in the end I realized that all I had to do was wait for the close of business so that people would stop being able to transfer characters and maybe then I could get through.

Yeah, that's right, Anna and I wrangled with Blizzard Account Support for 2 or so hours last night. Any other company that made you work that hard to pay them on a model where you pay before you get service would be out of business.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 10:09 AM | TrackBack