Wednesday, December 30, 2009

How to succeed in standardized tests without really trying

Inspired by my friend's blog post, I decided to take an online test of my reading speed. The test includes reading speed and comprehension. I scored 305 words per minute, just above the 200 wpm average. My comprehension, on the other hand, was at an astounding 91%.

I credit this, not to my awesome powers of recall, but rather to my carefully honed multiple-choice test taking skills. After all, about 2 months after reading most books (and watching most movies) I have close to zero memory of the main plot line, characters, and surprise reveals of who the bad guy really was. It's a new experience each time. In fact, I just finished re-reading the Harry Potter series, and I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. I tried to train myself to remember important details, though. Each night I went through a recitation of the Defense Against Dark Arts teachers in each volume (Quirrell, Lockheart, Lupin, Moody - I remembered that it wasn't actually Moody but I couldn't remember who had taken his place, Umbridge, Snape, Carrow).

Back to the carefully honed test-taking skills. I do pretty well on multiple choice tests, even if I don't know anything about the content. Here are a few rules that brought me through this latest test.

Rule 1: Always eliminate the odd man out.
If you run across a set of answers and one definitely doesn't belong, that's because it doesn't. Most likely the test writer couldn't think of a second good alternative to the correct answer, so they just filled it in to meet deadline. An example from the speed reading test:

Q7. The average speaking speed of a race driver is around?
A. 120 mph
B. 150 wpm
C. 200 wpm

It's okay. I had no idea what this question was asking when I read it, either. However, look carefully at the units of measurement. See the one that isn't like the others? Eliminate answer A.

Rule 2: In the "wow you" tests, always go for the extremes.
These are the tests that ask a series of questions to try to surprise you into really believing in the necessity of their cause. They want you to say that left-handedness isn't all that uncommon - 30 or 40%? - so they can spring it on you that only 7-10% of our population has a south paw. An example from our test:

Q5. A sprinter running as the average reader reads, runs 100m in?
A. 10 seconds (near record time)
B. 35 seconds (jogging)
C. 70 seconds (walking speed)

The most stunning comparison is a sprinter only at only the speed of walking. Ding, ding, ding! C is correct.

Rule 3: Know your audience.
The test maker has inherent biases that are difficult to completely remove from the test:

Q11. What is probably the best way to reach top level reading efficiency?
A. a speed reading book
B. a speed reading seminar
C. a speed reading software

If you viewed this speed reading website carefully, you would have noticed that it advertises ReadingSoft - a speed reading software. Answer? C.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

home for christmas

Christmas Eve greetings! I'm spending this Christmas with my in-laws. I know I'm with the Gongs when we have homemade sushi and sashimi one night for dinner and Chinese mao bu du fo (spicy tofu) for breakfast the next day - with leftover seared tuna and salmon on the side.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

real butter is so much better than margarine

Remember that time we had Thanksgiving? I know everyone's into the whole 8 days until Christmas and all, but I'd like to take a moment to share these photos with you.

I know, I know. It looks like a Pilgrim-shaped coffin. But it's actually a Pilgrim-shaped stick of butter. My sister carved it for our Thanksgiving dinner.

I have the coolest family.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

if you don't hear from me in several weeks

Call an ambulance, because it means I've had a heart attack in my office. For some reason, when our computer gets a little overloaded on tasks (switching between window panes too rapidly), it gets angry and BEEPS at me. It blurts out of the speaker and goes directly to my heart, causing a momentary stop in my pulse. Also, I can feel the synapses in my brain fuzz up.

And just now when it happened, it made my right eye twitch.

Monday, December 14, 2009

a wassailing

Two weekends ago, Abe & I held our 3rd annual Christmas Wassail Open House. We make gallons and gallons of our secret wassail recipe, an assortment of appetizers, and fill our home with wonderful friends to share the evening.

Ideal as that may sound, every time I hear wassail, I think of a claymation Christmas program I saw when I was a kid. Until I looked it up on YouTube, I had not seen this program since I was about 11 years old. It has left me wondering why this particular scene is ingrained in my head, yet I can't remember something like the presidents of the United States. Actually, I think the reason I remember this scene is because the dinosaur-like creatures* are somewhat terrifying.

Here it is:

I also fondly remember the 3 kings camel scene:

And who doesn't like the California Raisins?

By the way, a much requested recipe at the Waffle - I mean, Wassail - party was the spinach artichoke dip. Credits go to my sister.

Spinach Artichoke Dip
1 can artichoke hearts, chopped
1 cup frozen chopped spinach
1 (8oz) package cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 c mayonnaise
1/4 c grated parmesan romano cheese
1 tsp crushed garlic, or 2 cloves fresh garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
Dash of cayenne pepper

Blend all ingredients together. Microwave or bake in oven until heated through.

Also, some photos of the party.

Our friend Evelyn brought a German Smoking Man, which is a traditional Christmas incense burner.

*Why dinosaurs, anyway?

Monday, December 7, 2009

don't knock it till you've watched it

A few weekends ago I almost witnessed a nervous breakdown when Abe & I were in Marshall's. The delightful strains of radio holiday music were just too much for my husband. It probably didn't help that I was shopping for a bra.

The Christmas music selection on the radio does somewhat sicken me. However, I have found new appreciation for many of the worst tunes since watching their music videos.

For example, I never knew what a jewel the music video for "Wonderful Christmastime" by Paul McCartney was.

Please, enjoy. Also note: 1) the choir of children singing their song (1:14) is frightening in the extreme, 2) the glowing orbs (1:27) are surely channeling the Logan's Run renewal chamber, 3) 3:03 - I'm sorry...what just happened, exactly?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Snape, Snape, Severus Snape ... Dumbledore!

This afternoon at lunch, someone commented on my co-worker's name (Nandini). She wondered if that was also the name of the snake in Harry Potter.

My inward dialogue went something like this:

"Huh? That's not even close to Voldemort's snake. Her name is Nagini - clearly not the same. ...oooh, I can't wait for Abe to leave town soon so I can finish reading the next 2 books in the series. I've been waiting so I can obsessively re-read them in preparation for the 6th movie coming out on DVD, without worrying about also being an attentive wife. ...Wait, why is no one else at the table commenting on the fact that Nagini is not Nandini? Am I the only person who thinks this is quite obvious? Yes. Yes, I am. Perhaps I should feel embarrassed."

I then mentioned that the snake's name was, in fact, Nagini. To my relief, Nandini piped up and said that Nagini means something like cobra. A fellow Harry Potter fan*? Possibly.

Tonight I decided to put myself to the test, literally, with Scholastic's Harry Potter trivia quiz.

Sample questions I got right:

- In what forest did Harry and Ron find the sword of Gryfinndor? Although the forest near Godric's Hollow is a tempting choice, it is actually Forest of Dean.
- From what book did Harry get Hedwig's name? History of Magic.
- What was Hagrid's giantess mother's name? Fridwulfa.

I lost the quiz at 20 points (you could only get 3 wrong answers) on this question: What is Mrs. Weasley's favorite nickname? I re-took the quiz and stalled on the first question: What was Professor Slughorn's favorite candy?

So my random book fact knowledge was somewhat high, but not off the charts.

I sorted through other Google searches to a promising "How Obsessed Are You With Harry Potter" quiz. Turns out, I'm only 18% obsessed with Harry Potter. A "Part time fan". I was also a little creeped out by many of the questions:

- Do you call your least favorite teacher Snape?
- Did you learn about time travel theory just so you could understand the complications that would arise from Hermione's use of the time turner in Prisoner of Azkaban?
- Have you ever visited the Harry Potter Lexicon?
- Are you one of the posting members of the Leaky Cauldron (B. K. DeLong, Heidi Tandy, Melissa A. etc)? Did you donate money to The Leaky Cauldron, hoping to find out what was on that mysterious auction card?

Clearly, there is an entire Harry Potter sub-world that I am blissfully unaware of. I will confine my fantasy to a hardcover and cozy living room chair.

And, perhaps, humming this catchy little tune.

*A little known fact is that my father read the entire Harry Potter series in the bathroom. Funny on oh so many levels.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Chinese! (part III of Vancouver!)

1+ month later, I think these are the last photos of my trip to Vancouver: a beautiful, cloudless morning in Chinatown.

This giant abacus was right next to our parking spot on the street.

We visited the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Garden. The guided tour was actually really interesting. Our guide explained how the garden creators used light and dark, round and square, to create different visual effects. He explained that viewpoints were very important.

For example, we stood for a while in this beautiful spot.

Then the guide had us look through the circular door to a beautiful view on the other side.

We then walked through the door, turned around, and saw the same garden as a completely different scene.

Reflections of nature and structures were also a running theme. Depending on what side of the water you were standing on, you would see a completely different scene because either nature or man-made structures were prominently reflected.

I think I would be happy with a Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Garden of my very own.

Here's a Chinatown street view.

I thought the principles of yin and yang were reflected well in this store display. What you can't see is that they bobble back and forth.