Gradescope is a Pleasant Surprise of Well-Thought-Out Design in Academic Software

Having been a TA for 3 semesters (and a college student for 11) has taught me that most academic software is insanely bad. Like, really, really bad. Gradescope is, among this vast wasteland of despair, not only an oasis, but a really pleasant one.

Given the baseline, I of course fear that I may just be judging Gradescope on too excessively low a bar. Am I giving it credit just for being able to have expected middle-click functionality?

I don’t think so. I believe that for a reasonable bar for software quality, Gradescope not only meets expectations, but exceeds them. Gradescope is actively nice to use, particularly from a staff perspective, and from what I’m used to with academic software, this is completely incredible, and deserves a treasure trove of praise.

In short: most software comes with negative surprises, realizations that it is harder to use than it looked like it was. Gradescope often comes with positive surprises, realizations that it is easier to use than expected.

Someone on the Gradescope team really understands quality user interface design. Elements of Gradescope typically do precisely what one expects them to do; they are given helpful names that well describe their functionality. Where one would want to directly click and edit text, one can in fact use such direct input. (To edit rubric items, one simply clicks on them and they become text boxes. It is not indirected via an edit button or the such. And oh hey! These text boxes support LaTeX!)

Common functionality comes with an assortment of hotkeys, exactly what a grader would be seeking once they have done the same actions many times in a row, and hotkeys that take the same functionality as buttons pop up upon mouse hover over the corresponding buttons. For hotkeys for rubric items, they are simply presented next to the items themselves, without hover even necessary, since as these are numbers, one would naturally want to be able to see the associated numbers at-a-glance rather than memorizing them.

A common regret of graders when grading papers by hand is realization upon certain submissions that a certain penalty or credit on the rubric is probably too harsh or too lenient, and then realizing that one would have to go through the entire stack of papers again to find the students whose grades one should adjust to meet a new standard. Does one have to do the same, but electronically, when using Gradescope? Of course not. Gradescope allows you to filter by a rubric item to see all submissions which have already been assigned that rubric item, and immediately have all the papers that should be reconsidered. If one is only changing the point value of that particular rubric item, one doesn’t even need to go through the papers; one just edits the score associated with it.

Both students and staff benefit from an easy-to-use regrade request feature, which allows for a nice communication channel with which to deal with regrades. As staff, you could have all the submissions in front of you and compare one student’s submission with others and more quickly decide what a fair thing to do is.

Gradescope is software that actually makes grading massively more efficient; there is none of what the rest of academic software does in making you wish you were still doing things the old way.

And every so often, Gradescope rolls new updates. These updates are well tested, are actually features (more useful than shiny), and play along nicely with what has been around before. Recently Gradescope rolled out a prototype of a handwriting recognizer. I’m already really happy with how many names it successfully recognized that we don’t have to manually match anymore.

Gradescope is proper technological innovation.

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331 Hours Below Freezing

On the evening of last December 25, Boston dipped below freezing.

This in itself is not unusual; this is quite expectable for Boston in the winter. What’s different is that this time the temperature did not return to above freezing until just last hour. Boston spent a consecutive 13 days and 19 hours—from then until now, in the negative Celsius.

Specifically, these were the highs and lows of the days in passing:

Dec 26: 27°F/-3°C | 19°F/-7°C
Dec 27: 20°F/-7°C | 12°F/-11°C
Dec 28: 12°F/-11°C | 5°F/-15°C
Dec 29: 14°F/-10°C | 2°F/-17°C
Dec 30: 18°F/-8°C | 6°F/-14°C
Dec 31: 13°F /-11°C| 4°F/-16°C
Jan 01: 13°F/-11°C | 0°F/-18°C
Jan 02: 19°F/-7°C | 4°F/-16°C
Jan 03: 29°F/-2°C | 16°F/-9°C
Jan 04: 30°F/-1°C | 22°F/-6°C
Jan 05: 24°F/-4°C | 6°F/-14°C
Jan 06: 12°F/-11°C | 1°F/-17°C
Jan 07: 17°F/-8°C | -2°F/-19°C

For reference, the average Bostonian December high and low are respectively 41°F/5°C and 28°F/-2°C, and for January 36°F/2°C and 22°F/-6°C.

Winds weren’t forgiving in much of these times either. It often got too cold even in the inside of my dorm, so I actually spent a large portion of this time elsewhere, wandering from location to location, working on my thesis.

But yes, those of you who went home away from MIT for the winter vacation, this is what you missed.

Categories MIT

dzaefn No Longer

Long story short: I no longer wish to go by dzaefn. You can call me by my real name, or other options listed three paragraphs below. I’m going to try to stop referring to myself by this, and I’d like for you to stop referring to me as such as well. I don’t intend to abandon this name as much as possible, just to ease it out, let it stay where it is not easily changed, and just indicate when appropriate that I prefer other names.

There have definitely been people that I’ve expressly told that I am dzaefn, particularly at times in my life that I just didn’t like that my real name was what it happened to be. (Some of these people even concluded that was actually my real name. Oops.) In any case, both from this and from other effects, a lot of people, maybe you, primarily refer to me by the name ‘dzaefn’. I’m sorry to tell you that I just do not wish to be called this name anymore, and I apologize for inconveniences in mental nomenclature reassignments.

Why has ‘dzaefn’ fallen out of my favor? Honestly, I’ve just gotten to a point where I feel the things with what it stands for and the z-replacing-s got too silly. It derived from a previous username that I used, ‘d684n’ (which, in fact, I first used when making this here very blog, 6.5 years ago), which stood for ‘dotted sixth and eight-fourth-th note’ (an expansion of ‘dotted eighth note’), in which I replaced the s with a z because I thought the string ‘dsa’ looked too qwertylike. I’m serious, this is the origin of this username. I’ve had at least a few really confused faces and at least someone ask me if I was trolling (trust me, I’m not nearly that good at trolling) among the various times I’ve explained this username. Eventually, after changing what it stood for a few times, I decided it really doesn’t stand for anything at all. And eventually (read: now) I decided if I’ve gotten to this point I should really just discard this. It really wasn’t a put-together-that-well name, and it didn’t become better. I don’t feel any remote sense of juiciness about the name anymore.

So what should you call me? Several options. My full first name is fine. Unlike the times in which I’ve told people to call me dzaefn, I’ve come to better terms with my own name. In case you’re not sure what my full first name is, it has six letters. More online, there’s at least three usernames over the past year I’ve gotten convinced I plan to keep as monikers permanently (which is honestly the first time in my entire life I’ve actually felt so): 004413 (my main username these days), 0xGG (the username I use in gaming), and xer0a (pronounced hay-ru-ah, [‘heɪɹuɑ]), the last of which you might have noticed is my username on WordPress now. If you don’t like that these names take more than a syllable to pronounce, the second half of my full first name is a fine shortening.

There will be several places where I’ll just let the fact that my username is dzaefn carry on. It turns out that my starting to use ‘dzaefn’ falls quite near my coming to MIT, and my current decision falls very near the end of my formal times at MIT, so it just makes sense and is convenient to have it associate with my MIT presence: I’ll still use it for logistical MIT business, and I’ll retain the /u/dzaefn account for posting to /r/mit, and I’ll just remind people that it only happens to be my username, and that I don’t wish to be referred to as such any longer.

That’s all. Happy birthday to Satyendra Bose today, and Isaac Asimov tomorrow.

Categories MIT

Ununnoticeable

I liked to sit on a radiator unit in the W20-575 cluster when battling The Alchemist gym in Pokémon Go. A few times ago, someone who was working on one of the computers told me they wish I could move, because my sitting on the radiator seems to cause it to make substantially louder noises, and that was distracting to him. So I went and sat on a different radiator unit that didn’t react as such.

Since then, I’ve noticed each time I sat on that particular radiator unit that it does in fact react to my sitting with louder noises each time. And even if there wasn’t someone that told me the noises bothered them, I moved. Somehow, despite the elevated noises never bothering me before someone told me (I don’t remember the noises back then, but I’m pretty sure it’s not that the radiator just happened to start consistently becoming noisier upon my sitting the one time someone happened to be bothered by it), I definitely couldn’t help but notice them afterwards, and feel that I should do something to fix the problem, even if no one complained.

Rethinking the situation, I’m actually not sure if why I consistently move afterwards is because the noise newly bothers me or if I feel the need to in-advance cater to a particular type of people who would be bothered by the noises. They both feel like they could be reasons I did the such, but one could easily get faint feelings of afterwards-justifications for actions, and I feel these might fall into this category.

Answers to the MIT Campus Scavenger Hunt

This post contains the answers to the MIT scavenger hunt I posted 40 months ago, excepting items in the 16 advanced item expansion known as the “Navigator’s Quest”.

I decided to end this due to changes that have occurred to MIT’s campus, the rate of which has been much speedier than I could have imagined 40 months ago. Buildings have been demolished, buildings have been built, buildings have been renovated, stuff has moved around, and permissions to various locations have changed such that original foundational ideas of the hunt could no longer hold. The Picture Scavenger Hunt, on the other hand, I still plan to run indefinitely, and it now has an established mechanism for pictures that become outdated.

In any case, congratulations to jakobw for the most items found during the duration this hunt was up.

As for the answers, long story short:

MITscavanswers

I decided to not chart locations that are answers to 39 here on a post on the internet. Ask me in real life for an answer to 39.

There are of course probably many more locations that several of these items can be found at than plotted in the map above.

Notes:

For item 1, solidly shaded buildings have the floor numbered 0 aligned with the ground. I also accepted buildings just outlined in the map above, though, as those are cases where ground is between floors numbered 0 and 1, but the floor numbered 0 is closer to the ground level than the floor numbered 1.

For item 8, Senior House was my original intended item. When I was designing the hunt, I momentarily forgot about graduate dorms when writing this item. I was later informed that at least Edgerton House among the graduate dorms have both A/C and elevators. Eventually, Senior House closed, but Edgerton House does still remain, so this item had an answer through the end of this hunt, despite this not being true of the set I was originally thinking of.

I parenthesized the Building 8 answer for item 9, even though I accepted it, because Building 1 is a case where the building is the fairly indisputable central home of a course, whereas Course 8 has substantial portions outside Building 8.

For item 20, there’s many tiny buildings that satisfy the item that I did not bother to mark on the map above. Probably my favorite case of this is Building W55, whose bottom doesn’t even touch the ground. (I was actually fairly sad they did not number its singular floor 2, so that MIT could have the amusing feature of containing a building whose lowest floor is numbered 2.) Of course, Building W55 hadn’t been built yet when I published this hunt. Building 34’s lowest floor is in fact 1 because what lies underneath it is actually not grouped with 34. This is in fact the reason for one of the answers to item 33.

Item 21: the Pharos color printer is in W20-575. This is a quite useful thing to know as an MIT student. When I wrote this hunt, though, the Pharos color printer was in 12-182, a room that no longer exists.

Item 24: the elevator services floors 4, 5, and 6. Without additional permissions, though, travel is restricted to oscillating between 4 and 6.

Continue reading “Answers to the MIT Campus Scavenger Hunt”

Opinions on Food Around MIT

Yesterday, E. Tey made a Firestorm presentation on food options around MIT. I felt I’ll also lay out my opinions on various food choices as well. Mines fairly differ from his at certain points.

Student Center

There is no food in the student center.* Don’t look for food there. Particularly the Subway and La Verde’s. Eww.

*Shawarma Shack is actually food. And it is actually decently priced, for the things with obvious price tags. The things without obvious price tags tend to be surprisingly expensive given the price of other things there.

MIT Campus Establishments

There are no viable food options in the various food stores on MIT’s campus. Occasional food is not that bad, but they are pretty much universally overpriced for campus food (often $10+ for a lunch at Forbes Café, even more at Koch Café). The closest options to viability are the soups.

MIT Dining Halls

If you want an even worse option than eating at the Student Center or the food service locations on MIT’s campus, enroll on a dining plan. If you’re on something like a 5000-calorie diet, at which point the all-you-can-eat nature might pay off, maybe it’s worth it. If you’re not, you’re spending restaurant-level money on dining hall food. Sit back and evaluate your life.

MIT Campus Food Trucks

This is by far the best choice* for food one can obtain on MIT’s campus. There are several food trucks offering very tasty food at decent prices, most particularly Saté (previously momogoose), a southeastern-Asian food truck, with many delicious curries. The Chinese food truck (called “Savory Food Truck”) on Mass. Ave. is also very decent, though note their website has automatic sound, if you ever decide to visit it. The Chinese food truck also has a second window for falafel. I’ve never tried it. There’s also Jose’s Mexican food truck, which has much better Mexican food than Beantown**. In most of these food trucks, a nice, hearty meal is $7 to $9.

*Excepting the next section.
**I appear to be very unusual in the MIT community in having this opinion.

Free Food

This is the other best choice for food obtainable on MIT’s campus. Just subscribe yourself to the free-food mailing list. Get notifications of when free food appears on campus, or just happen to stumble upon it when strolling through campus. Free food appears often enough during the school year that one could reasonably live off of it. Help fight food waste while keeping your wallet happier.

Supermarkets Around Campus

There’s a store behind Random Hall called Shaw’s while being called Star Market (the brands are owned by the same people, and nearly everyone uses the names interchangeably, which can get quite confusing for people not accustomed to it), interestingly integrated into the building of a hotel. It’s an okay standard place to shop; though prices in nearly any other market around are slightly cheaper.

A bit more north of whatever-you-call-the-above is H-Mart, probably the best option on this end of Cambridge for Asian groceries. They have lots of free samples and even accept TechCash. Note that only one counter has a TechCash processing machine, so ask where it is before you get in a line.

[CORRECTED ON EDIT] On the other side of the street, there’s the Harvest Co-Op. The options here are pretty good in quality, but prices are quite high. They accept TechCash. Membership here is one of the most headscratchingly nonsensical things I’ve ever seen; I’ve not even saying it’s a ripoff—in fact it almost certainly isn’t—it’s just that it might cause me to scratch my brains off.

[CORRECTED ON EDIT] Also around here, there’s a Target in Central Square which has a surprisingly decent groceries section for, well, a Target.

Trader Joe’s near the western end of Cambridgeport (and thus somewhat north of the west end of MIT’s campus) is my strongest recommendation. There’s lots of high-quality options for very reasonable prices. They also have free samples and are good with being allergen-informative with their samples.

A bit north of Trader Joe’s is a Whole Foods. I strongly recommend Whole Foods to anyone who derives pleasure out of watching their wallets shrink at unimaginable pace from the buying of items pretentiously differently worded to look massively fancier than they really are, living a deluded belief that doing this is better for their bodies.

If one’s willing to take a longer walk west, there’s a Hong Kong Supermarket/Super 88 (once again a Shaw’s/Star Market nomenclature situation) a whiles west in Boston (specifically in the Allston neighborhood). I strongly recommend this supermarket, especially if you’re willing to deal with the derpiness of derpy Asian markets that do things like pile way too many products in rather crowding locations (which I very much am willing to deal with). Unlike H-Mart, the restaurants in front of this supermarket are generally actually worth it. Prices at this supermarket are shockingly nice, and it’s in Boston instead of Cambridge, so at least for now you don’t get charged for bags for your groceries. (But please still bring your own reusable containers. The Earth is a nice place.)

Restaurants in Cambridge

The following is the complete list of restaurants in Cambridge I consider worth it to dine at: Saloniki, Veggie Galaxy, Pepper Sky’s, Rangzen, Friendly Toast, Dumpling House. I’ll talk about these first.

Saloniki is a fairly new Greek fast-food restaurant just a block north of main campus at MIT, thus making it convenient from a campus perspective. Service is really fast and friendly. If you show them your MIT student ID you can get a free box of Greek fries with your order. Most food is very refreshingly flavored, and the place even smells nice. I just wish the containers they served their food in were more conducive to stirring. Most meals are $8-$10.

Veggie Galaxy is a vegetarian restaurant where all their options can also be made vegan (and their entire dessert menu is vegan). Their food is on average highly tasty, although I’d also say with high variance. Never substitute onion rings here: it costs more and they only give you three; if you must, order a side of onion rings instead. Most meals are $11-$15.

Pepper Sky‘s is a pretty good Thai restaurant. Most meals are $11-$14.

Rangzen, a Tibetan restaurant, in terms of food quality by itself, by far earns my highest marks of any restaurant I’ve been in in the area. The food is utterly gorgeous and feels ethereal to my taste buds. It even combines well with the calm music they provide for the setting to really nourish a place to momentarily feel happy and content. My strongest recommendations go to dishes involving eggplant or yucca, the egg noodles, and the deshi. The chicken broth soup is very fulfilling. They have lunch buffet on weekdays, for $14. Other meals tend to cost $11-$17. These are price tags I’d usually scream at, but here I consider it absolutely worth it for this particular food. I treat it as a place to occasionally dine where I’m willing to spend much more than I typically budget on food for the special experience.

The Friendly Toast is a rather weird restaurant north of Technology Square (around Kendall Square) that is generally diner-like. They serve many really weird combinations of ingredients that often come out admirably well. Meals tend to cost $9-$15.

Dumpling House is a Chinese restaurant that I’d say barely makes the mark for being worth it. There’s plenty of tasty options, but food portions are kind of small and there’s also some not-so-tasty options. It’s a typical Chinese restaurant in being family-style, so I could only estimate how much a dinner will be, which is…$10-$16?

Now for the not-worth-it options.

A lot of people at MIT really like Flour. I can see it: quite some food there is quite delicious, particularly the soups. It just doesn’t get delicious enough for me to feel it’s worth it often, though. Sandwiches are $9, soups are $5. Usually when I eat at Flour it’s more for the convenience of location, which is just slightly further from main campus than Saloniki.

Along similar lines is Clover. I find food at Clover even tastier than at Flour, but whereas Flour’s pricings feel expensive, Clover’s are outrageous. Their sandwiches are tiny yet $7.5-$11 [CORRECTED ON EDIT], and other items are even more not worth it. Clover brands itself as a “Food Lab” (and, incidentally, sprang out of MIT), and it really provides that impression, with how they concoct their foods. There are some drinks, though, that though still overpriced, are just really tasty. Top notch goes to the Coriander Soda.

Darwin’s is a sandwich restaurant a bit north from Random Hall. Its prices are similar to Flour’s, and…I never understood what the niche of this restaurant really was.

Beantown is the absolute worst Mexican food I’ve ever had in my life.* A lot of people actually really like this restaurant. I don’t get it. There’s about nothing redeeming here. Even their guacamole tastes like it is subpar, and that’s guacamole.

*I appear to be very unusual in the MIT community in having this opinion.

I have never eaten at Chicago Pizza, but people I talk to who have nearly universally consider it inedible beyond belief, and the worst pizza they’ve had in their lives. Maybe it says something that their hour of peak traffic is 1am, when people are desperately hungry in the middle of the night and everywhere else has closed.

Bailey & Sage seems to like to brand themselves as a place with really healthy options. Unfortunately, their food tastes like cardboard.

Bon Me is a Vietnamese-ish restaurant next to The Friendly Toast. The food is actually fairly good, but like Flour, the food is not good enough for its price.

Patty Chen’s Dumpling Room is an often-reviled restaurant at the Central Square end of Main Street. Despite most people considering this one of the worst options for Chinese food, I actually think it’s fairly okay. It’s not great, but I don’t find it bad. But it’s still just okay.

Dosa Factory is just slightly less than worth it in my opinion. There’s some good choices for Indian street food here. I’ll occasionally go there for variety.

Mary Chung has both terrible food and terrible service. Just never eat there.**

**This is also an unusual opinion, but unlike my opinion with Beantown, there’s actually substantial quantities of people that agree with me regarding Mary Chung.

Thelonius Monkfish’s most redeeming quality is its name really. It serves Thai food and sushi. It’s not particularly good at either.

Shanghai Fresh is an okay restaurant. That’s all.

Boston Burger Company is also just slightly less than worth it in my view, like Dosa Factory. Their food is generally quite good; it’s just not worth it.

There’s probably also a bunch of other restaurants I’ve eaten at that I didn’t even find good enough to remember.

Restaurants outside Cambridge

The one that most comes to mind is Fu Loon in Malden. There’s nice hearty and delicious Chinese food there.

Allston in Boston is the place to go to find a fascinatingly high concentration of Korean restaurants, many of which serve really good Korean food. But as always, disclaimer: Korean is my favorite cuisine.

EDIT1: I can’t put H-Mart, Harvest, and Target in south-to-north order, apparently.
EDIT2: Oops, I used post-tax amounts for Clover.