Sunday, July 31, 2011


Gotta chug away on various projects this evening. These are, as always, trying times.


Saturday, July 30, 2011


Milton (well, it's coming dangerously close to All Milton All the Time!) here.

A different Milton here.

A Jesus story here.

Twisted Jesus story: my brother Sean sends me a link to an example of home-grown Aussie wackiness here.

Malcolm paints a lovely fantasy scenario about the US government.

Elisson, earlier than Malcolm but in much the same "a pox on both their houses" vein, dispenses with his usual humor to get serious about the fiscal crisis we're in. Skippy has been predicting this for a long, long time. (And it's not even obvious that this particular crisis is the Big One that Skippy's been forecasting! That may yet be to come.)


my one indulgence (or possibly two indulgences) this pay period

I'm off to see a matinee of the latest Harry Potter film. My buddy Steve Honeywell's review is here. There's also a chance that I might see "Cowboys and Aliens" this weekend, but we'll see. I'd rather not watch that one alone.

UPDATE: Saw the film. The theater sucked, but the film itself was pretty good, as series endings go. I had the distinct feeling, though, that director David Yates owes a huge cinematic debt to Guillermo del Toro: there were visual elements in this final movie that strongly reminded me of "Blade 2" and "Hellboy 2" (which are essentially the same movie*).

*Long ago, I had hoped to write a post on this issue myself, but as you see by the above link, someone had beaten me to the punch. I do, however, disagree with the writer's "boy, did [they] suck" conclusion. Both movies were great fun to watch. "Hellboy 2" had an odd, awkward, Tim Burtonish beauty to it; "Blade 2," meanwhile, was way more fun than the first Blade film.


Friday, July 29, 2011

if it's snowing in July...

...we must be in New Zealand.

Have fun visiting my buddy John's blog. Be sure to watch his short vid at the end of the post.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

ce samedi: au travail!

I had put in a request to work Saturdays at YB Near (you may recall that I no longer work at YB Far, which definitely saves me on gas, time, and stress) as a way to boost income; the office initially replied by saying they could give me only a single Saturday-- this coming Saturday. I was happy to hear that I'd have any extra work, but a string of Saturdays would have made all this extra planning for private tutoring unnecessary. Later on, the office told me that they could indeed give me more Saturdays... but only at four hours a day. By the time they told me this (just two days ago), I had already shifted over into private-tutoring mode, and I also knew that a string of half-days would do little to help my budget.

So I'm working a full, eight-hour day this coming Saturday, and after that I'm on my own. It'll be strange to be at YB on the weekend; the last time I worked a Saturday was in March, at the very beginning of my YB career.


the Death Star will be completed on schedule

Along with my GRE studies, I'm building a blog-based website (i.e., a blog plus stand-alone web pages) whose purpose is to serve as a sort of "Plan B" in case my MGRE aspirations fall through. I'm not ready to reveal the site yet, but it's going to be a hub for my private tutoring activity. The idea is to drum up business over the next few weeks. Wish me luck; we'll see how it goes.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

less of a headache today

Will be doing something constructive this evening-- aside from making bean soup, which is on tonight's menu.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Another headache. I don't like it when these happen; they keep me from concentrating on GRE studies. Here's hoping that some aspirin will do the trick.


Monday, July 25, 2011

nifty discovery

I'm actually better at Algebra 1-level rate/work problems than I thought I was.


it can happen anywhere

From Bruce Bawer's "A Double Tragedy for Norway":

When I first heard the news of the explosions at those buildings, my first thought, of course, was that it was a jihadist attack. But it wasn’t: it was a right-wing lunatic. It wasn’t jihad. It was a meaningless killing spree by a madman, like the ones at Columbine and Virginia Tech. A headline in one Norwegian newspaper today noted that the death toll in Oslo and at Utøya yesterday was higher than at Columbine and Virginia Tech combined. The Norwegian media have always reported on mass murders by lone gunmen in the U.S. as if they were things that could never happen in Norway: rather, they were symptoms of a sick society that Norwegians could never possibly understand. In Norway, they use the term “amerikanske tilstander” — American conditions. It never means anything good. Yesterday’s nightmare, from a Norwegian perspective, was the most American of American conditions.

It's an interesting article, and it gets creepy toward the end as the writer reveals a bizarre sort of connection with Breivik, the killer.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

the massacre in context

Just a quick remark on a trend I already see building in the Koreablogosphere: I can sense that battle lines are being drawn as old Korea hands look at the massacre in Norway and ponder its relevance to Korea's own meditations on multiculturalism: the mass-murderer, Anders Behring Breivik, is now on record as an anti-multiculturalist. I say that comparing Norway to Korea is like comparing apples to oranges: Korea, in my opinion, can only benefit from a healthy move toward diversity, whereas when European leaders proclaim (along with some US conservatives) that "multiculturalism has failed," they are referring to a particularly pernicious strain of multiculturalism that fetishizes diversity at the expense of other Western values, not to multiculturalism in its more neutral sense.

Whether Korea likes it or not, it's being forced to deal with the increased demographic pressure that comes with being a prosperous country: simply put, foreigners are pouring steadily in, and this is both changing the face of Korea and challenging the old, odious danil-minjok mythology. Norway, on the other hand, may be facing some of the same problems afflicting the other North Atlantic cultures as it deals with the consequences of its own unwillingness to assimilate foreigners who refuse to make the effort to integrate. In the West's case, a stronger move toward assimilationism-- i.e., proactive integration and acculturation of immigrants-- would, in my opinion, be of great benefit. In Korea, it's the larger society that, I think, needs to give ground in order better to accommodate the foreign presence.

There's also this: it's not obvious to me that Breivik's actions should even provoke a debate about multiculturalism. As far as I'm concerned, the man is a nut, a mad dog who should be put down. Bringing ideology and other Big Issues into this will only complicate matters unnecessarily. Let's keep the discussion and speculation at the level of the individual and ask ourselves how a dude could be so fucked up as to kill nearly a hundred people. The larger questions of liberal versus conservative, gun rights versus state control, assimilationism versus multiculturalism, are questions rightly reserved for sane minds. Anders Behring Breivik is an aberration. Whatever ideology he claims motivated him to bomb downtown Oslo and slaughter innocent youths is merely a cover for his deeper-seated problems.


meanwhile, in GRE-land...

Scores for the Problem Solving practice set (Quantitative):

Basic: 10 out of 10

Intermediate: 8 out of 10

Advanced: 9 out of 10

It's sometimes hard to tell what makes the advanced-level problems advanced. The advanced problem that tripped me up turned out to be relatively simple to set up; I had made a mistake in conceptualizing the problem, which was this:

Phillip has twice as many tropical fish as Jody. If Phillip gave Jody 10 of his tropical fish, he would have half as many as Jody. How many tropical fish do Phillip and Jody have together?

(excerpted from Kaplan New GRE Math Workbook, 8th Edition, p. 45)

Figuring out that P = 2J was no problem. That's a good algebraic rendering of the first sentence. The second sentence threw me off, though: how exactly was I to interpret "half as many as Jody"? Did this mean "half as many as Jody had after Phillip had given her the fish," or "half as many as Jody originally had"? Unsure how to proceed, I tried setting the problem up several different ways, and that's what kept me from getting the right answer: I had no firm basis on which to choose the correct approach, so in the end I chose none.

The Kaplan manual says this:

Let P represent Phillip's fish and J represent Jody's fish. If Phillip has twice as many tropical fish as Jody, you can write: P = 2J.

If Phillip gives Jody 10 fish, then he will have 10 fewer, or P - 10, and Jody will have 10 more, or J + 10. In this case Phillip would have half as many as Jody, so

P - 10 = (1/2)(J + 10).

The rest is easy, because now it's just a systems of equations thing. But as you see, the problem takes "half as many as Jody" to mean "half as many as Jody had after Phillip had given her the fish." Is this a commonsense reading of the problem? Am I wrong to think the wording is a bit unclear? I've often found myself frustrated by math and logic problems because I often seem to see multiple possible interpretations of the wording.

The other two problems I got wrong aren't worth displaying here; I was careless in my setup, but not because of any misinterpretation.

A 27 out of 30 puts me in about the same 710-ish range I've been in all this time. The goal is to get 30 out of 30, consistently. This will mean a reduction in the carelessness department, and a quicker ability to grasp how to set problems up. At YB where I teach, the kids learning SAT Math go through a section of "English to algebra translation." I should probably sit in on one of those sessions myself.


come again??

From this article, re: the Norwegian mass-murderer:

Police have charged Breivik under Norway's terror law. He will be arraigned on Monday when a court decides whether police can continue to hold him as the investigation continues.

This is even a question?


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ave, Charles!

It won't be long now before my buddy Charles becomes Dr. Charles. His dissertation has received final approval, so he's essentially there. Congrats, my friend.


unsure what to say

At this point, all the news and commentary sites are aflame with chatter about the murders and bombing(s) in Norway. I have little to add, except that it might've been nice if the killer, Anders Behring Breivik, had had "a little accident" on his way to jail. It'll be interesting to see how Norway-- currently known in the news outlets as "the home of the Nobel Peace Prize"-- handles this case. I see that Norway outlawed the death penalty in 1905. A shame, that.

When my mother saw people like this mass-murderer on the news, she used to bark at the TV screen: "Chop 'em into two thousand pieces!" Damn straight, Mom.


Monday's and Tuesday's workbook performance

From the Kaplan GRE math workbook:

Quantitative Comparison, Basic Practice Set: 10 out of 10

Quantitative Comparison, Intermediate Practice Set: 9 out of 10

Quantitative Comparison, Advanced Practice Set: 7 out of 10

About what I expected, given the difficulty levels.

From the Kaplan GRE verbal workbook:

Text Completion (1-blank) Practice Set: 5 out of 5

Text Completion (2- and 3-blank) Practice Set: 5 out of 5

Suspiciously easy, those were.

And now: the math problem that stumped me, but whose solution prompted a Homer Simpson-style "D'oh!" slap to the forehead. Behold:

Answer selections for Quantitative Comparison problems are always as follows:

A. Quantity A is greater
B. Quantity B is greater
C. Quantities A and B are equal
D. The answer cannot be determined from the information provided.

Have fun, and remember that figures are not necessarily drawn to scale. I'll provide the answer in the comments section later, if anyone is interested.


Friday, July 22, 2011

and we're back

I was too tired and headachy to think about doing any GRE exercises yesterday, so I'll be doing them this evening. When I did a section from the Quant workbook this past Monday, I encountered a problem that I'd like to share with my readers. Might slap that problem up tonight or tomorrow.


Thursday, July 21, 2011



UPDATE: A lovely video, with sincere thanks to my buddy Charles for sending me the link.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

curious spores

July 20th is Moon Landing Day: a day of mystery and awe and garbled quotes ("one small step for [a??] man..."). Today, we celebrate the era when we puny beings of flesh squeezed into fragile little sardine cans and flung ourselves away from Mother Earth, sporelike, riding on tendrils of gas and hurtling through a short interval of space with enough accuracy to land gently upon our nearest celestial neighbor: a friendly, gray, and ever-expressive presence that has hovered near us for eons, a little over one light-second away.

And then, to the world's horror, yours truly was born 42 days later, and this year marks the Beast's 42nd birthday.


comme si j'étais en Suisse

My envelope from ETS came today-- the one containing my GRE scores from this past July's stab at the test. As you'll recall, I got a 710 on both the Verbal and the Quantitative; this put me in the 98th and (cough) 72nd percentiles, respectively.

Scores for Verbal and Quant are automatically generated on the spot; you can know your scores before you walk away from your study carrel at the end of the exam. But because the Analytical Writing section is graded by actual human beings (I think this may change: ETS has been quietly shifting more and more essay-rating work to its flagship grading program, e-rater), those scores weren't immediately available. I've spent the past couple weeks on tenterhooks, waiting for the arrival of my results.

The Analytical Writing section consists of two essays. In July-- one month before the Great GRE Changeover-- the essays were called (1) Present Your Perspective on an Issue, and (2) Analyze an Argument. In the first instance, the objective was to write a systematically thought-out opinion about a given issue. The second task, however, involved reading a faulty argument and determining just what its flaws were. The writer was challenged to isolate bad assumptions, note leaps in logic, and offer ways in which to improve the argument.

The scoring scale-- which is the same as the scale used for the SAT I Essay Writing section-- goes from 1 to 6 points. I've been flashing back to my time living in Switzerland, where universities give grades on a 1 to 6 scale. Back in 1989 at the Université de Fribourg, getting a 5 in a class was cause for reverence from one's classmates; Swiss profs were (and probably still are) notoriously stingy with their high grades.*

With that standard in mind, I opened my ETS envelope with some trepidation. The result:


I cheered. Compared to the sorry job I did on the old Analytical Reasoning section from the 1990s, a 5.5 out of 6 is almost miraculous. Not only that, but a 5.5 puts me in the 94th percentile, i.e., I scored better than 94 percent of the people who have taken this form of the GRE. Rock and roll, baby.

My elation faded, though, as I pondered just what it was that I thought I'd accomplished. In the end, I merely proved that I'm a pretty thorough, systematic, analytical writer and thinker-- no surprise, given my background and my intellectual predilections. What I didn't do, though, is redeem myself quite the way I had hoped. I wouldn't disagree with the person who accused ETS of "dumbing down" the Analytical section: there's some merit to that accusation. The old Analytical Reasoning section, as you may remember, was composed almost entirely of logic problems that usually required one to move very quickly through a rigid series of deductive steps in order to arrive at the proper solution.** Logical people generally had little trouble with such problems: they could see the route connecting the question to the answer very clearly, and almost instantaneously. People like me, however, aren't wired to navigate the apodictic realm quite so deftly; those problems were a real struggle for me, and it showed: if I recall correctly, my Analytical Reasoning score from the late 1990s was an abysmal 500-something, putting me in the 40-somethingth percentile.

My point is that a leap from the 40-something netherworld to the 94th percentile is most decidedly not a reflection of my years of rigorous training in Talmud: it's a reflection of a new testing format that's friendlier to people of my verbal-oriented persuasion. I think ETS recognizes this, too: the section was originally called "Analytical Reasoning," but was eventually renamed "Analytical Writing" to reflect a fundamental change in testing emphasis. It's enough to make one wonder whether both sections-- Reasoning and Writing-- shouldn't be on the test, as a gesture of fairness to the more apodictic-minded.

Still, this is cause to celebrate. I have an Analytical Writing score that's nothing to be ashamed of (although a 6 would have been nicer), and a set of Verbal and Quant scores that would make me the darling of many a Humanities department.*** The old Analytical Reasoning section is gone-- and good riddance! Fair or not, the new Analytical Writing section is here to stay, and even though it's been slightly revised as part of the Great GRE Changeover, the new version won't be much different from the previous version.

My Analytical Writing score is not, from what I can tell, relevant in any way to my job prospects: the powers that be inside MGRE are focused exclusively on one's Verbal and Quantitative scores. Today, it's more about enjoying a strange little moral victory than about anything pertinent to my work-related future.

*I managed at least a 5 in all my classes while in Fribourg; a rare 6 was awarded to me for my performance in Cultures et civilisation françaises, and I got a 5.5 in my favorite classes, Science des religions and La quête de l'absolu: culture et religion des Hindous. I even managed a 5 in L'Oeuvre poétique de Louise Labé-- not one of my favorite classes, although I liked the stodgy prof who taught it.

**If you're desperate to see what the old Analytical problems were like, check out this link. Unfortunately, the answers are listed right along with the problems, which takes the fun out of trying to solve them yourself.

***A science-related department, by contrast, would take one look at my Quant score and do its damnedest to hunt me to extinction.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011


My buddy Tom alerts me to an Aussie who is crossing Australia on foot... all while wearing an Imperial stormtrooper outfit. Paul Jacob French of Melbourne is doing the walk for charity; his goal is to raise $50,000 (Australian) to help the Starlight Foundation, which aids sick and hospitalized children. His route is taking him from Perth, in the southwest corner of the continent, to Sydney-- way over in the southeast corner. The distance is comparable to crossing the US mainland: 2500 miles.

Tom sent the news of Mr. French my way because of French's carrier, which you can see here. That's close to the sort of design I'd like, except that I'd rather leave my arms free to swing. A harness that would allow me to pull the carrier along would be better. The other problem, in my case, is that I've decided to do my own walk by following the American Discovery Trail, which does follow roads for much of its length, but which also follows some wheel-unfriendly routes. I'd need to look more closely at the entire ADT before deciding whether purchasing a carrier might be worth the trouble.


try this on for size

Here's the "hard" GRE reading comprehension problem that frustrated the hell out of me. See how well you handle it. Leave an answer in the comments section.

Select one answer choice unless otherwise instructed.

2. A ten-year comparison between the United States and the Soviet Union in terms of crop yields per acre revealed that when only planted acreage is compared, Soviet yields were equal to 68 percent of United States yields. When total agricultural acreage (planted acreage plus fallow acreage) is compared, however, Soviet yield was 114 percent of United States yield.

From the information above, which of the following can be most reliably inferred about United States and Soviet agriculture during the ten-year period?

A. A higher percentage of total agricultural acreage was fallow in the United States than in the Soviet Union.

B. The United States had more fallow acreage than planted acreage.

C. Fewer total acres of available agricultural land were fallow in the Soviet Union than in the United States.

D. The Soviet Union had more planted acreage than fallow acreage.

E. The Soviet Union produced a greater volume of crops than the United States produced.

(excerpted from ETS/The Official Guide to the GRE Revised General Test [New York: McGraw Hill, 2010], p. 71)

Good luck!


Monday, July 18, 2011


My progress through Sets 1-6 of the ETS manual's review of the new Verbal section:

Set 1, Discrete Questions: Easy: 8 out of 8 correct

Set 2, Reading Comp Questions: Easy: 9 out of 9 correct

Set 3, Discrete Questions: Medium: 7 out of 8 correct

Set 4, Reading Comp Questions: Medium: 9 out of 9 correct

Set 5, Discrete Questions: Hard: 7 out of 9 correct (ye gods)

Set 6, Reading Comp Questions: Hard: 5 out of 8 correct (for shame!)

The questions did indeed get much harder in the "hard" sets; you're obliged to make some awfully hair-splitting decisions, and to follow the meaning of reading passages very, very closely. Two or three of the reading passages were frustrating because they felt more like math problems than actual reading comp problems (e.g., one was about partial versus total measures of US versus USSR agricultural production).

I'm about to take a peek at the Quant review, and will call it a night after that. This coming week, I'll crack open the Kaplan workbooks and start doing exercises in them. I'm excited, because these workbooks contain plenty of drills and explanations. The so-called "Kaplan Method" doesn't appear to be much more than good old common sense, but that's fine: all I really want is (1) to be reintroduced to some forgotten concepts, and then (2) have the chance to apply those concepts, over and over, until I get them down pat. I think the workbooks will prove to be a good investment.

Right now, though, the Verbal is worrying me more than the Quant is. Those "hard" sections have made me nervous. But there's no need to fret: I've chosen to work on Quant on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and will devote my Tuesdays and Thursdays to Verbal. The weekends will see me working in the "big" test books-- the ETS and Kaplan books that have complete GRE sample tests in them. Workbook exercises during the week; sample tests on weekends. I think this works, especially now that I've picked up some momentum in my studies. More news as it happens.


wired the wrong way

When it comes to the GRE, it seems the effort needed to reach the 99th percentile for Verbal isn't nearly as great as the effort needed to reach the 99th percentile for Quantitative. Why is it that, if you miss two problems out of 60 on the Quant, you're bumped down to the 92nd percentile, whereas the same error rate on the Verbal nets you a 99th percentile? Two possible explanations occur to me:

1. It's actually harder for most people to score 750 or higher on the Verbal. This is difficult to believe, given how I was able to score 750 twice with only a week's practice. If we go with this hypothesis, however, it leads to the notion that most people taking the GRE are math-oriented, i.e., they're not so good with the "fuzzy" logic of the Verbal section, but they generally rock and roll on the math. If so, that's cause for pride: I'm one of the few and the proud when it comes to the GRE Verbal section. But it's also cause for consternation: am I really that dumb when it comes to math?

2. It's not that the Verbal section is harder for most GRE test-takers: it's that the ETS standards are higher when rating the Quant section. This possibility is bizarre, but worth chewing over. The Quant section requires only three kinds of knowledge: Algebra 1, Geometry, and something called "data interpretation," which amounts to using algebra while staring at and interpreting graphs and pie charts.

That's not much math knowledge, when you think about it: by the time most kids are taking the SAT in high school, they've gotten at least as far as pre-calculus (called "functions and analytical geometry" where I went to school), and many have gone further into either AB- or BC-level calculus. Meanwhile, the level of reading skill demanded for the SAT (and, by extension, the GRE) roughly corresponds to the level required to get through the sort of material one might encounter as a high school senior or early undergrad.

If I'm right, then a difference in standards between Verbal and Quant is a distinct possibility. To put the matter more plainly: the SAT and the GRE test higher-level verbal skills while simultaneously testing lower-level math skills. It's not so much that the test-takers are more mathematically inclined as that there's a tacit expectation that a random sample of the population will do better at the math. (An expectation that has, I assume, been borne out by decades of testing data.)

By that reckoning, possibilities (1) and (2) are interrelated, because if expectations are high that the general population will do well at lower-level math, then it doesn't say much about my math skills if I can't break the 92nd percentile (cf. the "cause for consternation" referred to in [1] above).

The inescapable conclusion, then, is that I absolutely have to bone up on my math, possibly even running myself through an Algebra 1 and Geometry textbook just to make sure I've got the basics down. It's a shame my brain wasn't wired better for math. This is going to be one of those cases where effort will have to make up for talent.


le recyclage

I've gone through the first five of six Verbal exercises for the new GRE. The textbook I'm using, in this case, is published by ETS. It takes you through the new Verbal and Quant exercises, gives you an overview of the new Analytical Writing section, and then plunges you into the sample tests (there's also a CD with sample tests).

It was amusing to discover that some of the reading passages in the new book came straight out of the sample tests from the old book-- two of the Long Reading Comp sets were, in fact, from GRE Test 86-2 (mentioned in a previous post)! Alas, my fresh remembrance of those reading passages doubtless skewed my performance on the new-GRE review questions. The types of questions that followed the reading passages were different, but the answers I gave-- all of which turned out to be correct-- were largely from the same pool of multiple-choice answers from the original test.

It's bothersome that the new GRE includes 2- and 3-blank Verbal questions for which all blanks must be correctly filled merely to receive a single point of credit. Right now, as I work through the new-GRE questions, I find myself experiencing a low-grade paranoia on par with the old "is my zipper up?" feeling: I'm never quite sure whether I've answered all the questions correctly. The new test feels more like a series of juggling acts-- and I have yet to face off against the new math section! Que le bon Dieu nous protège!


Sunday, July 17, 2011

GRE Test, 86-2

Verbal: 750 (99th percentile)

Stay tuned for a Quant score.

UPDATE: Holy crap-- a 790 Quant! Alas, this puts me only as high as the 92nd percentile. I also feel that I can't celebrate this score: GRE Test 86-2 is the first test in the ETS manual, and I had the sneaking feeling that the math problems were easier on this test than in the other, subsequent tests. I chose to take 86-2 last, however, not because I was aware of the easiness factor, but because 86-2 is the only test in the manual that comes with answer explanations.

I look forward to studying the Kaplan workbooks, which all have answer explanations.



The company I want to work for charges $790 for a 9-session (27-hour) online course. That comes out to almost $90 per session, i.e., almost $30 per hour. If that's roughly the market rate for GRE tutoring, I'm in trouble if I want to try tutoring privately. I had been hoping to charge around $50-$75 per hour. MGRE can charge cheap hourly rates, I suppose, because many students sign up for each session, thus justifying paying the teacher $100/hour.

Hmmm. Starting to wish I'd taken business courses.

UPDATE: This means that, if a class has 20 students in it, the students are paying the company a total of $600 per hour, of which $100 will go to the teacher. $500 an hour for the company-- not bad. Multiply that times 15 teachers on staff (that's just an estimate), assume they're all teaching at the same time, and that's $7500 per hour for the company. A single 3-hour day of class thus brings in $22,500 for the company; multiplied by 9 such sessions, we get $202,500 for 9 weeks' work. And that's just one course.


things to work on, GRE-wise

Math problems I fear:

1. rate problems, especially of the "adding different rates" variety
2. calculating the areas of regular polygons
3. working with probability
4. permutations and combinations

On the practice GRE I took last night, I encountered problem types (2) and (4), and managed to get the answers right through sheer guesswork. But lucky guesswork won't be good enough on the actual test. The madness needs a method.

Today, I'll be finishing up the "old" ETS book and starting the Kaplan series. Part of me thinks it's ironic that I'm using Kaplan materials in order to score high enough to work for Kaplan's newest competitor (Manhattan GRE is only a couple years old). I have high hopes that the Kaplan books will prove useful: they're highly rated on Amazon, and besides-- ka'pla is Klingon for "success."


Saturday, July 16, 2011


Over the past week, my GRE practice scores have been:

GR 90-16: 730 Verbal, 670 Quant = 1400

GR 91-17: 760 Verbal, 650 Quant = 1410 (750 Quant with 5 minutes' overtime)

GR 91-18: 750 Verbal, 750 Quant = 1500

GR 91-19: 720 Verbal, 720 Quant = 1440

GR 92-1: 740 Verbal, 730 Quant = 1470

Do you see a trend anywhere in there? I see that the latter three composite scores are better than the first two, but within those three scores, there's plenty of wobbling and bobbling going on. Thus far, I've broken (or should I say "reached"?) 1500 only once, and I need to get as close to 1600 (or 340, I suppose, per the new, revised scoring system) as I can.

I'll be taking one more test out of the "old" GRE book tomorrow (it's the only one in the ETS manual that comes with answer explanations), and then I switch entirely over to dealing with the new GRE. My exam will be on August 26, at 7-fucking-30 in the A.M., so I have to be on site at 7AM to check in. If I manage to score over 1500 (or the new scoring system's equivalent), but don't succeed at making a stratospheric score, I'm planning to put out my own test-prep shingle and tutor privately. My scores are already in a high range (750 Verbal is 99th percentile), so I think I'd be a legitimate tutor for the Lumpenproletariat who are stuck in the 1100s-1300s range. (Oh, the noxious ass-fumes of elitism!)


latest round

740 Verbal, 730 Quantitative. Damn. Breaking 1500 is hard to do.


Manhattan GRE's Math Beast Challenge problem for this week

This is a "quantitative comparison" problem. Two expressions are placed in two columns-- Column A and Column B. You have to determine which column contains the greater quantity. Your options are usually:

a. Column A is greater.
b. Column B is greater.
c. Columns A and B are equal.
d. It cannot be determined with the information given.

This week's quantitative comparison:

Column A:

a100 - 1

(a72 + 1)(a35 + 1)(a18 + 1)

(Sorry for the bad HTML. The above expression is supposed to be a fraction with a numerator of (a^100 - 1), and a denominator of [(a^72 + 1)(a^35 + 1)(a^18 + 1)].)

Column B:

a18 + 1


(A) Quantity A is greater.
(B) Quantity B is greater.
(C) The two quantities are equal.
(D) The relationship cannot be determined from the information given.

I'm going with (D). Column A includes odd exponents, which is relevant if a happens to be negative, since a negative number taken to an odd power will be negative. We don't know whether a is less than, equal to, or greater than zero. We also don't know whether a is an integer: if, for example, a is a fraction greater than zero and less than one, taking it up to the hundredth power will only shrink the quantity, not augment it. Example: (1/2)^3 = 1/8, which is less than 1/2, whereas 2^3 = 8, with 8 being greater than 2.


ADDENDUM: I should also note that, if a = -1, the fraction in Column A will have a denominator of 0 and thus be undefined.


Friday, July 15, 2011

720/720 vision

Well, damn. Got two 720s in my GRE testing last night, doubtless thanks to the fact that I started the first test at 2:30AM. Trying again with more tests today.


stupidity comes in many forms

Joel at the Marmot's Hole blogs about a woman who became enraged at the presence of a seeing-eye dog on a Seoul subway. From the article he quoted:

...on the same day on line number 4 bound for Danggogae at approximately 2 PM one young woman was sitting on the seats for the disabled and elderly when she noticed the seeing-eye dog of the blind woman sitting next to her and suddenly screamed, “Who brings a big dog like that on the subway? Are you crazy?”

Read Joel's post to see what lengths this woman went to in her efforts to get the dog and the dog's owner off the subway. Best punishment for such a person: put out her eyes and train her to use a seeing-eye dog to get around. Problem is, she sounds too stupid to learn her lesson.

I'm reminded of my favorite scene in the goofy, quasi-Zen film "Circle of Iron." David Carradine plays a priestly figure who acts as a guide for a young warrior named Cord. At one point during their travels, the men encounter a handsome, arrogant boy who makes his relatives miserable by ordering them around. Carradine's priest steps up to the boy and, having taken the measure of the youth's character, promptly breaks his nose. Cord is astonished at this show of violence, but as the priest explains, everyone around the boy was a slave to his beauty, and now the boy and his family have been liberated.

Being brought low is good medicine for those wise enough to profit from the experience.


Bonne Fête

Aux Français qui fêtent le quatorze juillet: tout de bon.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

750, but...

Still testing.

I got another 750, but this time it was the Verbal section. Am about to throw myself into the Quant section. Because of the nature of GRE scoring, my 10-point drop from yesterday's 760 is purely the result of scaling and weighting (sounds as if we're going fishing): my raw score tonight is the same as yesterday's.

Stay tuned for an update as I fight my way through the math portion.

UPDATE: Got a 750 on the Quant (raw score = 56 out of 60). Legitimately, this time.


pour les gastronomes

If you're a foodie, you'll be wanting to see this film.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

coulda' been a 750

I just took a 30-minute Quantitative practice test and scored a 750... but only after going five minutes overtime. This was a classic case of allowing myself to gnaw for too long on a single problem. I should have skipped the problem, done the easier ones, then gone back to the hard problem with the time remaining to me.

I blame my Droid's Free Cell app. I've been a Free Cell addict since I was introduced to Windows back in the 90s. We Mac-heads don't normally get to enjoy prepackaged games like Free Cell and Minesweeper, so this was something of a treat for me, and it rapidly became an obsession. On my phone's scoreboard, my win/loss record has me at over 98% wins, all thanks to my tenacity: I never give up a Free Cell game even when things seem hopeless. Unfortunately, this same tenacity can work against a person in a GRE situation; the perseverance that wins a Free Cell game is a time sink during a test, where it's often better to cut your losses and focus on what you can do.

Lesson learned: cut those losses. Now I'm off to try my hand at a Verbal section. I scored 730 on a practice session last night; we'll see whether I can beat that tonight. Stay tuned; there may be updates shortly. Give me a half-hour.

UPDATE: 760 on the Verbal section (from a raw score of 35 out of 38). And I didn't go overtime.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

what was that, again?

Oh, how a single letter can make all the difference.


President Obama tells me to eat my peas

Mon cher Herr Präsident,

Ich möchte very mucho to eat mes petits pois, pero it is not möglich for moi porque j'ai un peu trop gegessen this evening, and so I will probablement spend plus de temps sur les chiottes than at the Tisch. Je vous prie de forgive me, aber es la verdad.

Ich hoffe que vous passerez un buen día con su Frau, qui est muy sexy in my opinion.




Monday, July 11, 2011

it is accomplished

In case you got sick of waiting, and visit this blog only when you see an update to your news feed, this entry is a heads-up that the review of "13 Assassins" is now complete. See below.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

"13 Assassins": the review

The above image shows what is, for me, the greatest moment in Miike Takashi's "13 Assassins." In the scene in question, the samurai Shimada Shinzaemon, played by Yakusho Koji, sees a horribly mutilated woman and laughs-- not because he's laughing at the woman's disfigurement, but because he sees, in the horror visited upon her, a reason for him to take up his sword and lay down his life for a noble cause.

It may sound strange, but "13 Assassins" has something in common with "Dragonslayer," a 1981 film by Matthew Robbins. Both of these movies are about the ending of an age: in "Dragonslayer," the arrival of Christianity on the shores of the British Isles marks the beginning of the end of a long-standing pagan tradition: the dragons and the wizards will ultimately destroy each other, leaving the meek to inherit the earth. In "13 Assassins," we stand at the cusp of the modern Meiji era; this is the twilight of the samurai, and those who follow the bushido code feel they have little purpose in life except as noble decorations. The chances for a samurai to achieve the highest glory-- proper death in proper battle-- are few. This historical moment is the emotional backdrop for Miike's film. It might even resonate with Western viewers, who can relate to the primal theme of one last chance to do something right.

As is true of Korean films, "13 Assassins" is talky. Most of the talk takes place at a noble register; the language is courtly, often hiding raw emotions that, for dignity's sake, cannot be directly expressed. The main characters speak in questions and metaphors; threats are veiled under evocations of old childhood rivalries. The above-pictured scene was one example of that understated power: Shinzaemon permits himself only a brief moment to indulge in his newfound zeal before he takes a breath, calms himself, and becomes all business. As with the best British movies, it's a pleasure for the viewer to watch a Japanese actor who has mastered the art of both betraying and concealing passion.

The movie is divided into three distinct phases: the call to mission; the gathering, training, and planning of the assassins; and the mission itself. "13 Assassins" begins with harakiri: a complaint by the samurai Mamiya against injustice perpetrated by Lord Naritsugu, the son of a shogun and heir to the noble Akashi clan. Naritsugu's ascendancy to the inner circle of the shogunate would spell disaster for the land: his lust for killing and defilement would plunge the people into chaos after years of peace. The nobles close to the current Shogun know they can't afford to speak out directly against Naritsugu; the commissioning of the assassins must be done in secret.

Twelve of the thirteen assassins are samurai, but the thirteenth person to join the company, Kiga, is met on the way to Ochiai Village, where the samurai are planning to ensnare Naritsugu and his retinue. When I first saw the actor who played Kiga, I suspected that he might be portraying some sort of supernatural being; this suspicion was confirmed when I read the Wikipedia entry on the film. To say more at this point would be to spoil the plot, however, so I'll leave the topic of Kiga at that.

The major fight scene is impressively rendered and, for the most part, very old-school. While the duels are intense and gritty, there is nothing approaching the cartoonish fountains, pools, and rivulets of blood seen in movies like "Kill Bill: Volume 1." Much of the worst violence is slightly off-camera, leaving the gore to our imagination-- imagination enhanced by excellent metal-on-bone-and-guts sound design. The choreography of the swordsmanship is superbly executed, and the special effects are generally good, except for one embarrassingly bad moment involving stampeding animals: the bargain-basement CGI of this sequence reminded me of that horrible Robin Williams movie, "Jumanji."

But what makes the movie great is the acting. Yakusho Koji, whom I know from films like "Tampopo" (where he played the libidinous, white-suited gangster) and "Shall We Dance?" (where he played the inspiration-seeking husband), is the right age to play Shinzaemon, a samurai who, to all appearances, was on his way to a pedestrian death before this noble cause came along. Inagaki Goro-- who apparently started out as a singer in a Japanese boy band called SMAP-- is fan-damn-tastic as the villainous Lord Naritsugu. Inagaki is convincingly evil; we have no trouble rooting for his demise. The other cast members all do yeoman's work in filling out the remaining roles. Especially impressive to me was Ihara Tsuyoshi as the towering ronin Hirayama, who gets one of the most memorable scenes in the final battle, making his stand in a narrow space filled with swords ready for his use.

Vicious Lord Naritsugu and Shinzaemon, the man out to kill him, are polar opposites. The movie is as much about the clash in their values as it is about the end of an era. Both men crave depth of experience, but only one of them is concerned with values like inner nobility, courage, and self-sacrifice. I couldn't help thinking that Miike, like other Japanese directors (Itami Juzo of "Tampopo" comes to mind), intended his story to be an oblique commentary on Japanese culture-- perhaps not a cri de coeur for a return to the good old days of feudalism, but a warning to modern Japan about what it has lost and what it has plunged into in its headlong rush to embrace modernity.

"13 Assassins" works on all levels, whether as a simple action piece, as a showcase for fine acting, or as sociocultural commentary. As I mentioned above, the film's sound design is impressive. If you have the chance, watch the movie with the sound turned way up, kick back, and enjoy the show.


kar nooz

I got my Honda Fit's tires rotated and spin-balanced for $20 yesterday. Some Wal-Marts have a Tire and Lube center, and since this is what they focus on-- the circular and the slick-- they don't charge much. Out here in the boonies, where the air is fresh and pollution is minimal, Wal-Marts grow large as they feed on the local populace; the center I visited yesterday was one of the largest Wal-Marts I've seen.

A few days after I'd "bought" my new/used car, I noticed a vibration that was one part sideways shimmy and one part up-and-down. The overall effect, at 75 miles per hour, was similar to sitting in one of those luxury massage chairs set on "low." At first, it was hard to tell whether the problem resided in the car or was more a function of the road surface, but the periodicity of the vibrations convinced me that the problem was with the car.

The spin-balancing seems to have fixed the shimmy; my ride home from the tire and lube center was noticeably smoother. But there was still a vibration, and according to the dude at the shop, this is because my two rear tires need to be changed. (By "rear tires," I assume he meant "rear tires post-rotation.") The car had gone barely 38,000 miles when I bought it; that seems a little early in the life of a tire to be needing a change (then again, this reference suggests replacing them every 40,000 miles). The shop dude was nice enough to print out a tire quote for me; it's $288 to change out all four tires if I go for the highest-quality option; I assume that changing only the rear tires will set me back about $144.

Given the distances I commute-- almost 100 miles daily-- it appears that I'll be replacing my tires every 400 days of driving, which in turn means I'll be spending somewhat less than $300 per year on tires.

In other car news: Capital One says they've rejected the Blank Check that I signed off to the local Honda dealer. Why? Because of some fine-print "loan to value" ratio that determines the size of the loan they're willing to approve for a given vehicle. I had to laugh, though: I had originally been approved for $13,500, and now Capital One says they'll approve me for only as high as $13,310. I heard this, and my brain screamed, "What's the goddamn difference?" You're really going to get pissy over $190?" I also find it frustrating that Capital One would approve a person for a loan, then rescind that approval based on a post-approval recalculation. What sort of stupid policy is that? Life lesson here: if you can afford it, always pay for your car in cash, like an arms/drug dealer.

So right now, at this very moment, I'm waiting for a FedEx runner to come knocking on my door with the new paperwork from Capital One. I'm to take a revised Capital One Blank Check over to the dealer today, sign it over for the loan amount of $13,310, and then I have to pay the dealer $151.08 to cover the difference from what I'd paid earlier (I'd signed off on the Fit for a $500 deposit and a C1 Blank Check of $13,461.08).

So! Debts continue to mount. Starting in August, I'll be paying both increased insurance rates and Capital One car loan payments. Once again, I find myself reconsidering a career as a gigolo. For the chubby-chaser set, of course.


Saturday, July 09, 2011

the sort of question I wish appeared on standardized tests

Fill in the blank with the correct answer:

"Give this slipper back to ________ dropped it," said Prince Charming.

a. whoever
b. whomever


another Math Beast challenge

From the Manhattan GRE website's Math Beast Weekly Challenge page:

x and y are positive integers such that x > y.

Quantity A: xy
Quantity B: yx

(a) Quantity A is greater.
(b) Quantity B is greater.
(c) The two quantities are equal.
(d) The relationship cannot be determined from the information given.

This one's pretty damn easy. If you don't get it, even I will be ashamed of you. Highlight the bracketed response below to see the correct answer.

The correct response is [in my pants... and you know the only reason you highlighted this text was that you were too fucking lazy to figure out the goddamn answer for yourself].


errands galore

1. drop off the old Honda Civic's spare key at Jack's place (you'll recall that Jack's the guy who towed me off Route 66; he also bought the old car for $2000 cash)

2. get a haircut

3. get my new car's tires spin-balanced; there's been a nasty vibration, which started up only a few days after I'd bought the car

4. visit my buddy Mike's place, drop off some of his things, and maybe hang a bit

Promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.


Ave, Mr. Gilleland!

I need to slap this maxim on the wall of my cubicle at YB. Some of my students need to read this.


Friday, July 08, 2011


A Verbal score of 710 or 720 on the GRE puts one in the 98th percentile.

A Quantitative score of 710 on the GRE puts one in... the 74th percentile.

This promises to be a long, steep climb.


GRE: my schedule and some notes on the test's changes

The Calendar

I've fleshed out a study schedule for myself. It's based on the five books I have:

1. my ETS/McGraw-Hill book on prepping for the current GRE (my book's cover is slightly different from the one shown in this link)

2. my ETS/McGraw-Hill book on prepping for the new GRE

3. my Kaplan book on prepping for the new GRE

4. my Kaplan workbook of math problems for the new GRE

5. my Kaplan workbook of verbal problems for the new GRE

I've got too many errands to do tomorrow, so I've set my study calendar to start this coming Saturday. I don't want Text 1 to go to waste simply because the old GRE is being phased out, so I'll be starting off by doing the remainder of the practice exercises over this coming weekend. The workbooks (Texts 4 and 5) will be what I work on during the weekdays, when I won't be energetic enough to try my hand at a full-scale test. The ensuing weekends, all through July and most of August (my second attempt will be on August 26), will be devoted to the full-scale tests in both Texts 2 and 3.

What's New in the New GRE

I've only been over the new Verbal section, but some of the changes in the new GRE look intimidating, while other changes don't seem all that scary. As I've mentioned in previous posts, analogies are history: the Verbal section of the new GRE is now all about vocabulary in context.

The three types of questions in the new GRE Verbal section are:

1. reading comprehension
2. text completion
3. sentence equivalence

The reading comp questions come in three subtypes:

a. select one answer choice ("answer choice" is the phrase used in the ETS book)
b. select one or more answer choices
c. select-in-passage

Subtype (a) is no different from the sort of reading comp question found on the current GRE: read the passage, then select the answer that best responds to the question.

Subtype (b) is new: here, the idea is that more than one correct answer is possible, and the test-taker must select all answers that apply.

Subtype (c) is also new: for this question, the examinee must click on the sentence in the text that best responds to a given question. In a sense, the entire reading passage becomes a field of multiple-choice answers, only one of which is the correct answer.

The text-completion questions also represent a significant departure from the current GRE. The reader might be presented with a simple, one-blank question like the ones we already know and love, or he might encounter a paragraph with three blanks in it. In the latter scenario, the object of the game is to select answers that fill in all three blanks correctly in order for the reader to receive any credit at all for the question (i.e., 2 out of 3 blanks correct = no credit).

Perhaps most fascinating of all are the new sentence-equivalence questions. Here, as with the Subtype (b) questions discussed above, sentence-equivalence questions are all about selecting all the correct answers that apply. As with a regular sentence-completion question, the object of the game is to select the word that best fits the context. But unlike that familiar scenario, more than one answer must be chosen: at least two selections "best complete" the sentence. Here's an example:

Although it does contain some pioneering ideas, one would hardly characterize the work as ______ .

(a) orthodox
(b) eccentric
(c) original
(d) trifling
(e) conventional
(f) innovative

(Source: Text 2)

Highlight the bracketed text below to see the correct answers.
The correct answers are [C and F].

I might enjoy these new questions, but I admit to being leery of the new GRE's approach to reading comprehension. At the same time, the new computer-based GRE offers a feature not available on the current GRE: you can skip questions and then go back later to work on them. That, to me, is a godsend: it brings back the old test-taking strategy of doing the easy problems first, in order to save time, before moving on to the harder problems. The other reason to celebrate this change is that all questions in every section are weighted the same, i.e., a question of higher difficulty doesn't result in a heftier penalty if you happen to get it wrong.

I haven't checked out the new Quantitative section yet, but I imagine the recent changes are very much in the same spirit. Over the weekend, I'll be flipping through all my texts to familiarize myself with everything.

Ah, yes: scoring. The new GRE scores everything on a revised point scale, with 130 at the bottom and 170 at the top, in one-point increments (see here). I have no idea why ETS chose such an odd interval; then again, I never understood why the SAT and current GRE use a 200- to 800-point range. Why not make everything 0-100? Am I betraying my ignorance of statistics by flaunting my inability to grasp how test designers arrive at these weird numbers? (Analytical Writing remains on a 0- to 6-point scale.)

Lots to read. Lots to internalize. Not enough room in this thick skull for everything.


Thursday, July 07, 2011

much to discuss

Later tonight, after I'm back from work, I'll talk about my new study schedule, as well as what I've learned about the changes in the new GRE. Although I've mentioned those changes before in a general way, I'd like to get into the nitty-gritty, partly just as a way of thinking out loud, and partly for the benefit of any readers who might be considering taking the new GRE.

Stay tuned.


Wednesday, July 06, 2011

the new hours, the new life

Our new summer schedule at YB, which began two Mondays ago in the final week of June, requires me to wake up earlier. Thus far, I've managed to avoid arriving late, though a couple of my coworkers are having a bit of trouble on that score: one has been barely on time, and the other has already been late twice. It's not easy, when you've been living a vampire's life, to adjust to a more human rhythm.

I've also been wrestling with the messiness that heralds the start of any new curriculum: students who come unprepared, students who haven't received the necessary course materials, etc. For most of my "boot camp" students, a proper cadence has been established, but I've still got one or two stragglers who will need to do plenty of makeup work before everyone on my list is on the same page.

At home, I've turned to my other GRE prep materials. I began flipping through the Revised GRE guide published by ETS, and it's been helpful as a way to understand the new testing format. I discovered that the new GRE will be scored very differently from the previous version: the point system is totally different. That, in turn, makes me wonder what sort of standard Manhattan GRE will adopt. What counts as 99th percentile now?

The new format is a bit intimidating in some ways; at least, that's my impression of the Verbal section. I haven't looked at the new Quantitative section yet. The Analytical Writing section has been somewhat altered as well: the second exercise ("Analyze an Argument") hasn't changed, but the first exercise has been retitled "Analyze an Issue." I'm still trying to figure out how it's different from the former "Present Your Perspective on an Issue" task.

Along with my ETS guide to the new GRE, I've got three fat texts by the Kaplan folks ("Higher scores guaranteed!"). I casually flipped through a very informative overview of the types of math problems to be found on the new GRE. Later this week-- perhaps starting tonight-- I'll be doing something I haven't done in years: formulating a study schedule. My hope is to get through a certain number of ETS and Kaplan exercises before my next attempt at the GRE, which will be on August 26. We'll see how that goes.


a thought

After yesterday's meal, I found myself thinking: how lucky we are that the food doesn't exit us in the same form in which it entered!


Tuesday, July 05, 2011

no potato chips necessary

Who needs chips when your sandwiches are this hearty? Enjoy the following pics.

Hamburgers: mayo, BBQ sauce (on bread), ketchup, baby spinach, provolone on ground beef done up Kevin-style: beef mixed with salt, pepper, chili pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and a secret ingredient.

Hot dogs: mustard, ketchup, sriracha, relish, and homemade chili. The porn-sized franks are Kirkland (i.e., Costco) brand. They're not nearly as good as the Hebrew National franks, but they're not bad, either.


on patrotism

Wikipedia has a whole range of famous quotes on patriotism, ranging from the brave and noble to the obnoxious and craven. My favorite comes from Mark Twain:

In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a scarce man, and brave and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot.

That says a lot about the human heart.


another good read

My thanks to JS Allen for linking to a fascinating blog run by a UK neuroscientist. The blog is called Neuroskeptic. Give it a look-see.


Monday, July 04, 2011

the two things we celebrate today

First and foremost, July 4th is American Independence Day, so Happy Fourth to all my fellow Americans. I'll be celebrating by doing laundry, eating some burgers and dogs, and pondering the many reasons I have to be thankful for living in America.

Second, we celebrate this blog's eighth birthday. That's right: I established this blog back on July 4, 2003, when I was having a lonely Fourth in a noisy PC-bang (Net cafe) on Korea University's campus. Can't say that the blog has improved much since that time; it remains as meandering as it ever was, and I pretty much abandoned the blog for a year during my mother's illness, which means I've lost over half the meager readership I used to have.

But the point of this blog has never been to attract millions of followers. If anything, it's been a place to think out loud, to vent, and to generate material that might end up in books. By that standard, the blog has been exactly what I've wanted it to be, and I see little reason to change the way I run things.

So Happy Birthday, America, and here's to another eight years of blogging.


perhaps I stand corrected

It turns out that an SAT score of 1310 is no impediment to getting you into an Ivy League school. See here. I took the SAT twice, scoring 1360 and 1380, but with a 700 in a different category each time-- i.e., once a 700 in Verbal, and once a 700 in Math. Many colleges will harvest the best scores of each test you take and evaluate you accordingly, which is mighty nice of them. By that reckoning, I got a 1400... which isn't so different from the 1420 I just scored on the GRE.

Apologies if I seem a bit score-obsessed; it has as much to do with my current job (where the push to get kids into Ivy League schools is intense) as it does with my ambitions to move to a better job. I do realize that we're more than just a set of numbers, and having been an educator for so long, I share the ambivalence that many teachers feel toward grades in general: grades can hide as much as they reveal, and they're never a solid indicator of who we are as people. But I don't think grades and scores are inherently evil, and I don't see how any sort of standardized testing is possible without explicit, standardized norms by which to judge student performance. Societies create hurdles for a reason. In my case, there's a rather specific hurdle that I need to jump, so that's where my focus is.


Sunday, July 03, 2011

this makes eminent sense

Author Tom Robbins, as quoted in an old Salon article:

One reviewer said I need to make up my mind if I want to be funny or serious. My response is that I will make up my mind when God does, because life is a commingling of the sacred and the profane, good and evil. To try and separate them is fallacy.

That makes eminent sense to me. And I appreciate the Eliade reference. Spirit and spoo. Piety and piss. Crucifix and crap. Faith and fuckholes. Somewhere in East Asia, a monk is ringing a large bell in a mountain temple. At that very same moment somewhere else in the world, a cat is slashing a man's scrotum to bloody ribbons for no reason other than the pleasure it derives from the man's high-pitched screaming. Both events-- the bell-ringing and the scrote-ripping-- are Tao, manifestations of Buddha-nature, divine immanence, mere physics.


spot the error

Linguist Alice Freed, in critiquing the work of fellow linguist Deborah Tannen (who specializes in discourse analysis) at "a 1992 conference on women and language," said the following:

"As an American Jewish woman married to an Irish-American man, the constellation of conversational traits that I live with is completely at odds with those described by Tannen."*

For shame, Madame! As a linguistics professor, you should know better! And to say that in front of an audience full of linguistics profs? The gall!**

*The blockquoted text has been slightly cleaned up to conform to American punctuation standards. A hyphen was added to the phrase "Irish-American," which is usually hyphenated. No hyphen was added to "American Jewish" because there's a nuanced difference between that expression and the more common "Jewish-American."

**In case it's not obvious, I'm joking. Well... kinda' joking. Spoken English is riddled with errors, and I'm just not energetic enough to run around correcting everyone's spoken gaffes. However, Freed was giving a speech when the above was uttered, so it's an open question as to whether she was reading written remarks or speaking extemporaneously.


for the Maximum Leader

Mike is recently back from a trip to Graceland, so I've decided to offer him a link to this famous Elvis-related scene as a belated "Welcome Back!"

I watched that YouTube clip only a few minutes ago and busted a gut. The last time I'd seen the movie in which this scene is featured was... Jesus... years and years ago-- quite possibly in the neighborhood of twenty years ago. During that time, my musical sensibilities received quite an education as both my brothers practiced on their musical instruments-- David on the violin, and Sean on viola, cello, and piano (the latter on his own). What I learned, while my brothers learned, was how to listen to music: technically speaking, there's a lot going on in any piece, any song-- layers of interwoven complexities and contrasts that can create sublime beauty... and can also serve as rich fodder for lowbrow comedy.

Learning music entails surmounting a long series of musical disasters (have you ever heard a kid during his first year of practicing a musical instrument?); one becomes sensitized to those disasters, much the way a demolition expert can see the unique ways in which different buildings implode and collapse. The collapse we witness in the above clip is artfully rendered, since all the actors actually can sing, and are doing what they're doing quite deliberately. The clip depicts a harmony gone horribly, horribly wrong, and I don't think the scene was nearly as funny twenty years ago as it was just now-- now that I'm watching and listening with better-educated eyes and ears.

I hope you didn't defile Graceland the way these gents did, Mike. But if you did, I hope you were at least as awful as they were.


quiet weekend for yours truly

Neither brother seems able to make it out to the boonies to see me, so I'll be enjoying a quiet July 4th weekend. I can't afford to spring for any major luxuries, so I might exercise a bit of iTunes power and rent or buy a movie or two as entertainment. I did this recently with a film called "Valhalla Rising," which was much more of an art film than I thought it would be. iTunes also finally released the sixth Harry Potter movie, so I'm now all caught up on the Potter films (and I can see why the sixth movie got rave reviews).

I'll likely be blogging more sweet nothings over the next couple of days, but in the meantime, accept my early wishes for a Happy Fourth of July-- especially if you're from England.


Saturday, July 02, 2011

en deuil

As I suspected, Attempt #1 at scoring in the 99th percentile on the GRE didn't result in success. I got exactly the same Verbal-plus-Quantitative score as I got back in 1999: 1420. The points were shuffled around a bit this time, but the experience felt almost like an IQ test in which we confirmed that my intelligence hasn't risen even a single notch over the past twelve years.

A 1420 will help get you into most of the upper-tier schools, but such a score isn't Ivy League caliber. My Quantitative score-- both this time and over a decade ago-- would also prevent me from going to a higher-echelon tech-oriented school like Virginia Tech. If I remember correctly from last time, a low-700s Quantitative score puts one in the 80-somethingth percentile. With Verbal, it's easier for a bloke to attain the 90-somethingth percentile.

I have no excuse for my modest scores; while I did study, I didn't really pressure myself, and that's what killed me today-- poor time management as opposed to a lack of skill. I found myself rushing through the final parts of both the Verbal and the Quant sections... though I must say I thoroughly enjoyed the new (well, new to me) Analytical Writing section, which has taken the place of the old Analytical section. Grizzled GRE veterans may remember how the 1990s-era test went: in the Analytical section, you were faced with a series of logical posers, something along the lines of

You have nine employees to assign to a row of office cubicles. Employee A refuses to sit next to a smoker; B prefers an end-cubicle; C wants to sit at least two cubicles away from D; etc. What arrangement best caters to all the employees' preferences?

I despised those problems. I was never good at them, despite practicing, and took way too long to get through them when I took the actual test. On the current GRE, those problems are all gone, and in their place we now have two essays: an opinion essay and an analyze-the-argument essay. The first essay, as with TOEFL and SAT I and any number of other standardized tests, evaluates your ability to organize your own thoughts-- to tackle a generic topic by offering a well-structured argument laden with clear, concrete supporting examples. The second essay, by contrast, has nothing to do with your opinion: instead, you're presented with an argument (a letter to the editor, say) and are told to find and isolate the argument's various flaws, while also providing suggestions as to how to fix those flaws. As the ETS test prep guide says, this often means clearly stating what faulty assumptions the arguer makes, then offering your take on how those parts of the argument could be rewritten. This was-- or so it seemed to me-- much, much easier to handle than the old "happy cubicle proles" problems were. While I'd love to talk about the topics I wrote on today, ETS has forbidden it, which is why I'm avoiding any mention of specific details from today's test.

Where does this leave us? Well, I've now had my only crack at the current form of the GRE. I'm scheduled to take another test in late August, so I have about a month to study up on the new format. While I'm disappointed not to have achieved my goal on the first try, I did anticipate that this is what was going to happen, so there's no surprise in today's failure. I'm very, very curious to see whether I did better on the Analytical Writing section then I did on the Analytical section of yesteryear. My suspicion is that I did a much better job: my opinion essay may have been a bit top-heavy, but my time-budgeting for it was pretty good, and I think I nailed the analyze-the-argument task. Now that I know how ETS works thanks to my stint rating TOEFL essays, I know that the raters of the Analytical Writing section will be looking for very specific elements in the analyze-the-argument task. I hope I hit them all.

So there we are. I'm not as sulky as I thought I'd be; in fact, right after I left the testing center, I went downstairs and got myself two slices of pizza plus a soda, and just ruminated like a bovine. I chalk today up as a learning experience more than anything; it's been twelve years since I last sat for this test, and I'm the kind of person who needs to get into a rhythm as opposed to just "switching on" and plunging right in. Hats off to those who saunter in and saunter out with their 1600s, but that's not me. I need a warm-up.

August 26, here we come.


Friday, July 01, 2011

tomorrow, we celebrate... or mourn

But neither for long! If I celebrate after doing well on the GRE, it'll only be because I know that this is merely the first of several hurdles on the track to a better job. If I mourn after bombing on this GRE, it'll only be for a short while because I've got other GREs to take over the course of this year. Whether the outcome be triumph or tragedy, I won't be dwelling on it much beyond tomorrow.

Tonight's the final night of study, then I walk into the testing center at 10AM tomorrow and see how it goes. Although I feel some pressure to do well for the sake of a possible future career, I'm relieved not to have to worry about submitting these scores to a graduate school. That pressure is completely absent, Cthulu be praised.

I also have a sort of Plan B in place: if I score high, but not high enough for Manhattan GRE's expectations, I'll hit Craigslist, put out my cyber-shingle, and go into business for myself. The truth of the matter is that most grad schools don't require absolutely stellar GRE scores. High scores certainly help, but the schools are looking at more than your standardized test results.