Random Pondering

Item 1…

I am exhausted and cranky today. I’m working two jobs, so my side projects are suffering and I don’t get enough time to spend with all my friends!

If you work 2 jobs, and still manage to raise a family, you are a GOD. Seriously, I don’t know how you do it. You are amazing.

Item 2…

My student from Writing for College, Nina, asks:

I have a question for you guys. Not important enough to e-mail, but worthy enough to be asked on a blog. What is hard about grading? What is your grading process? Is it something that you procrastinate Is it easier than actually writing the assignment? Faster?

I will answer these questions out of order.


I always procrastinate. So yes.


I measure papers against an ideal and against each other. I hate curves because I know how to game them. You put in just enough effort to be better than a large number of your classmates, and no more. It doesn’t encourage learning or leading. It often discourages cooperation! Still, I grade papers against each other because there needs to be some amount of consistency in grading. The ideal prevents me from assigning the best paper an automatic A+. (FYI: I rarely award an A+; this is a result of my academic background.) The ideal varies from paper to paper, but mostly, I’m looking for a paper that can make me say, “Yes! You understand the concept!”

Notice the word “understand.” This is probably my most important criterion when grading. And let me give you a hint for school-work: Effort and time put in are not equivalent to understanding. There’s a difference between mindless practice and deliberate practice. Mindless practice is reading pages over and over. Deliberate practice is prioritizing what you do understand and what you don’t understand and focusing on what you don’t understand; it’s also about figuring out what information is important and what information isn’t important. Playing an instrument or sport provides one of the best analogies. Since I play piano, I’ll use that. Mindless practice is playing the piece over and over, glossing over the hard parts, and making the same mistakes over and over. Deliberate practice is zeroing in on the part that gives you trouble and playing that over and over until you get it right. Deliberate practice is also about focusing on what’s important and working on things in the proper order. Let’s say a passage gives you trouble and it contains a trill. You can’t get any of it right. First, you practice without the trill. It doesn’t make sense to practice with the trill if you can’t even get the rhythm right. Then, you add the trill back in. It’s up to you to determine what’s important, but you can get help if you need it.

So, what does this have to do with grading papers? I focus on understanding. If you try to put a trill in, and even play the trill beautifully, but don’t get the rhythm right, that’s worse than ignoring the trill and playing the part correctly. If your essay contains flashes of brilliance, but is an incoherent mess, you’ll get a worse grade than someone whose essay is more boring but is better focused and organized. Similarly, with the style exercises, if you occasional put some good lines in, but were inconsistent, that’s worse than having a lot of mediocre lines, but a more consistent tone. The latter indicates a better understanding of the material. To be even more specific, if you inserted a line in the Official Letter addressing someone, but then your narrator drifts in and out of the story, that tells me you don’t understand what you’re doing because the story doesn’t make sense. If you didn’t insert a greeting or even have a strong narrator, but the tone is consistently official and the diction is consistently complex, that actually indicates a better understanding. It tells me you can imitate a style. The former tells me you can copy isolated pieces, but you can’t tell a coherent story in a coherent style. Thus, as a student, you can’t say, “I did this! I should get a better grade than the person who didn’t do this!” There’s a holistic element to grading.

I’ve used the word “boring,” which I don’t want to do. I don’t want to give the impression that one shouldn’t take risks. This is writing, though! You take risks and then you edit the damn thing! And if you don’t get it, then you ask someone else to read your work and help you.

There are lots of rules that you get for writing, but are actually okay to break. For example, you aren’t supposed to use fragment. But they’re okay. The thing is that you have to use them intentionally. You have to know what a fragment is and why it could be bad before you can go breaking the rules. With poetry, learn rhythm and rhyme before writing free-verse. Otherwise, you’ll use unpoetic language.


Consistency. I have so many pet peeves that it’s hard to stay objective.


I can’t really compare them to each other. It’s like asking if it’s harder to learn Rondo alla Turca on piano, or to design a website. Different things completely.

Item 3…

I am loving Poderosa. I saw a coworker using it, and so I decided to download it and try it out. With one blow, I’ve replaced Console, PuTTy, and HyperTerminal. SSH worked with no help; no more PuTTy. I added the Cygwin bin to my path, and then cygwin worked. There went Console. Then, I got a plugin for serial port support, and so HyperTerminal is no more. Sometimes, the more powerful, feature-laden option is the most minimalist option. The only thing that would make my life perfect was if I could get it to replace the Windows command line too.

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