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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Slamming Donald Trump

What do you criticize, joke about, or insult Donald Trump for? Is it one of these things…

List A

  • Funding a costly, useless, and inflammatory border wall
  • Creating a fraudulent university
  • Bragging about sexual assault
  • Withdrawing from the Paris climate deal
  • Incredibly high frequency of lying
  • Bragging that he could shoot someone and still not lose voters
  • (this list goes on)

…or is it one of these things…

List B

  • His hair
  • Being ‘orange’
  • His voice
  • Being fat
  • ‘Small hands’

…?

If you take from List A, cool. If you on occasion take from List B, okay, people sometimes feel a need to make memetic references.

But if you sincerely consider yourself someone against Trump, and reference items in List B more than items in List A in your jokes and your slams, maybe you should take a moment and reflect on what it is about Trump that you are intending to fight against.

If you sincerely believe items in List B are more prominent disqualifiers than items in List A for Trump being in a position of power, than even though you’re against Trump and I’m against Trump, I’m very definitely not with you. In fact, I think I’m against what you stand for.

If you don’t sincerely believe so and believe List A has the important stuff, but you’re invoking List B’s items with greater frequency anyway, congratulations, it seems you and I agree there’s a nearly endless list of disturbingly problematic characteristics of Donald Trump you could pick on, and you decided that rather than anything in that list, you’d rather go for the low-hanging fruit of List B. In particular, you’re promoting the judging of people by their physical characteristics, rather than their actions, so you’re probably even exhibiting what you’re nominally fighting.

But everyone should reflect on why society has molded List B to indeed be the low-hanging fruit, the items that evoke the largest laughter or applause in the room. Think about how quickly people react or resort to the physical level, and that, in the supposedly mostly liberal circles in which anti-Trump is the normal, attacks on the physique stay. Maybe one should consider whether resorting to the such is naturally human, and whether one should really be dismissing judging on physical appearance as inhuman rather than a fault of humans to work against. And if one can have leeway for people making List B remarks on the left side, then one ought to consider possible exceptional natures of corresponding remarks on the right side.

And if you’re the type of person who watches liberal late-night comedy that’s saturated with List B insults, and pat yourself and your friends on the back for being the morally righteous ones, check what you pat yourself with.

Oh, and if what you make fun of is receiving golden showers in Russian hotels:

  1. So what’s your position on kink shaming?
  2. I hope you don’t complain about conspiracy theories. You’re invoking the literally unfounded, the sort of surmising that brings us delicacies like Pizzagate.

Six Months (Actually) on reddit

This past June 04, I finally started using reddit.

That’s not true. I’ve lurked on reddit (I think I’ll use the lowercase form since that’s what the site uses; I also like it this way) for definitely at least a couple years before that, but this wasn’t even “regularly-checking” lurking; I just checked reddit when I got really bored or otherwise was reminded of something being on reddit. Okay, so this past June 04 was the first time I started posting on reddit.

That’s not true either. This reddit account I’m currently speaking of wasn’t my first reddit account; I made one five months earlier than I made this one, which I used exclusively to post on subreddits relating to various games, at first just generals.io. In fact, come to think about it, generals.io really gets credit for being what caused me to actually start posting to reddit. It’s really weird what major discussion-facilitating sites there are that I start using because of games: reddit due to generals.io, Twitter due to minesweeper. (Of course, my start with reddit from generals.io went far, far smoother than my start with Twitter from minesweeper went, as many of you know.)

But in any case, I specifically did not wander off gaming-related subreddits with that account, and before this account, I really didn’t browse reddit much. This past June 04, I actually started using reddit, in the sense of freely wandering the site.

The following are my thoughts from these first six months.

I. Thoughts on the General reddit Community

I’m just going to start with saying that reddit has by far the most civil comments section that I’ve seen of an online community.

There will, as is really necessary online, occasionally be someone quite terribly grating and hyperbolically antagonistic, but even in these cases they usually seem like they’re sincerely representing their anger rather than just throwing clearly frivolous flames.

I have been rather surprised by how eerily normal my opinions often are in the reddit community. As someone who day-to-day notices my viewpoints and thoughts way off-sync to that of most people, I have to wonder how it manages to not seem so way off in what is clearly a pretty large mass of people. I absolutely would not have expected, for instance, that my opinions of the significance of Japanese war crimes of World War II was something that earned me net upvotes. Time and time again, I wish to speak my mind on something that I would have thought was a very disliked opinion, but find it’s a sentiment towards which reddit at large approves. Where are these people in real life?

In either case, I really like being able to see at what karma an opinion comment ends up to have some sort of a gauge as to how it fares and how accepted it is in some large group of people, even if it may not be the best approximation for the real life scenario.

A further interesting twist on this: I have, several times, made a comment that got greatly downvoted over the daytime (say, to below -10), and then massively upvoted over the nighttime (say, to above 20). It seems I’m significantly more in agreement with people who reddit (or at least visit the relevant subreddits) between 0200 and 0800 Eastern time. Now I have to wonder whether these are people in America redditing late-night or people elsewhere in the globe redditing during the day.

I really like the bot culture on reddit. I kept a list of reddit accounts I really like the existence of, and many on the list are bots. The bots deployed on reddit span a really great deal of usefulness and a spectrum of flavors of bot humor.

I saw a thread a while back (unfortunately I don’t remember which thread it was) where reddit administrators were openly having a conflict with each other; I can see why some may consider this to look unprofessional, but I really like this. I see it as a willingness to be frank about what internal conversations can be like. I interpret it as a refusal to sugarcoat a situation as nicer than it is and owning up to the fact that sometimes discussions don’t go well. It inspires confidence in an honest presentation and an open nature to a site.

Overall, there are lots of aspects I really appreciate about reddit. I’ll touch a bit on the flipside, though.

Continue reading “Six Months (Actually) on reddit”

Things People are Often Surprised I Don’t Like or Participate in

This is just a (not particularly ordered) listing of a bunch of things that people are often shocked I don’t actually like, or often assume wrongly that I must be a fan of.

1. Boba/Bubble Tea

This is something I never understood. Sure, when the tea is mixed with soymilk (and not milk, because I would be allergic to that), the result is often tasty. But adding those bubbles (or “pearls”) makes the result that much less delectable. I find them to not taste good, and only end up being a pain to deal with. They cause you to need those special straws to drink. And drinking through those special straws is uncomfortable. It’s losing on several grounds to me.

2. Pizza

I’m allergic to milk. Done.

When you tell someone unsure about what food to order for a group of people that “you can never go wrong with pizza” or “everybody likes pizza”, congrats, you have helped to continue perpetuate the difficulty of social inclusion of those allergic to milk.

3. Hamilton

Oh, I’m perfectly fine with the person. The musical, though, I don’t really like it. There are portions of it that I find worthy: the King George scenes are just delicious for humor content. But overall…no, I just don’t find it as particularly good as everyone seems to.

4. Drinking

I don’t drink. I find alcohol repulsive. I find the smell of alcohol repulsive. I find people’s behavior when they’re drunk repulsive. I find alcohol culture repulsive. There’s really nothing I like about alcohol. Fuck alcohol.

Except when we’re talking about alcohol in the chemical sense, of course. Alcohols get fairly interesting.

5. Anime

I watch zero anime. None. Zip.

6. Board Games

I managed to tell myself I liked board games for a really long time. It took me quite a while to realize I played them only because most my friends did and I wanted to be socially interactive.

I have been intending to write up a blog post about the underlying principles that seem to govern how I view games’ enjoyability. I think I have been able to fairly well figure what the design principles were that, for instance, Settlers of Catan violated flagrantly enough for me to find it almost comically unenjoyable. There’s also several other board games a lot in my circles seem to like that I dislike, like Dominion.

There are actually board games that I like. I still enjoy Revolution, for instance. Despite generally not liking games involving the skill of deception, I do also enjoy Avalon to some extent. Whether that counts as a board game is questionable.

7. Classical Classical Music

Yes, I really like classical music, as an average over the umbrella term. But more specifically, among the eras of classical music, my favorite is that of the romantic era (with some extension into early modern music). My favorite works are by Schubert, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Chopin, Tchaikowsky, Dvorak, as well as the later works of Beethoven and the earlier works of Prokofiev. I also like Bach, but the actual Viennese Classical period produced my least favorite parts of classical music. I particularly dislike Mozart. One of my most memorable exchanges with a piano instructor:

Me: “I just don’t like Mozart.”
Instructor: “How could you not like Mozart? I think you just haven’t listened to enough Mozart.”
Me: “Actually, there is a Mozart piece I do like, the D Minor Piano Concerto.”
Instructor: “That’s the least Mozart piece he wrote!”

I think he never got over the fact that I just so generally disliked Mozart.

I’m not a fan of Handel’s music either.

8. Metal Metal Music

I should probably mention this as well if I mention the above. There exists metal music I very intensely like. But what’s often considered the “hardest” metal music is far too “hard” for my musical tastes. The probably best short descriptor of the sort of metal I like is “symphonic metal”, but this still falls short of very well representing the little enclave of metal that is my sweet spot. It’s really best described just by listing a few bands: Nightwish, Dragonland, Amaranthe, Dragonforce, Rhapsody.

9. Pictures of Supposedly “Cute” Animals

Are they ravens, manatees, whales, dragons, or unicorns? Okay, I’m actually interested then.

Today is September 11th

Today is September 11. If you have followed this blog for a long time, you may know my typical fare for this day of the year is to write a post about how lucky the American society is to be able to consider September 11 a disaster of historical proportions, and how the American discourse and the American media help to shape a society that fails to acknowledge the magnitude of loss of life elsewhere on earth in American hands, particularly Iraq. I follow with asking the audience to remember what America has done to other peoples and how small the blow to America has been in comparison, and to consider what the attitude of overemphasizing foreign attacks on America could cause.

These are still important to realize. The American citizenry should remember what its country has effected on numerous foreign lives in the name of freedom and the alleged spread of democracy, and what this really reflects on the legitimacy of its claims to being the world’s beacon of freedom.

This year, though, I will also add in a phrase for the more typical September 11 acknowledgment. September 11 was a heinous attack on the USA, and on many innocent lives hailing from many different countries, and it was fueled by a radical Islamist ideology. The people who perished, including the people who perished trying to reduce the number of people who perish, should be remembered.

Though 3000 lives is substantially smaller than 100000 lives, it is still 3000 lives too many to end prematurely. Just because America is incredibly lucky in the world doesn’t mean those here that were unfortunate should stay unmentioned; they must still be acknowledged and remembered.

In the world of today, sides of a disagreement are decreasingly willing to acknowledge parts of truth that the other side wishes to highlight. Truth is truth. The combination of a lack of acknowledgment along with assailing the opposition for not acknowledging what one wishes acknowledged makes for the rapid collapse of discourse and the increase of the feasibility of less peaceful means of conflict resolution. And hence, I believe it is important to here as well explicitly acknowledge and commemorate the American victims of 9/11 as well as the efforts to recover from the attack, and assure to possible unsure audiences a recognition of the gravity of the occurrence.

My hopes include that this recognition helps more potential audiences to be willing to consider the extent and severity of American military violence and other forms of oppression towards other peoples.

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.

Declaration of Universal Acceptance of Listening or Conversation with Minority and Unpopular Opinions

I am willing to hear, with a guarantee of non-counteraction, the opinions and thoughts of anyone with perceived uncommon or unpopular opinions, or opinions that one fears garners significant societal judgment or ostracization upon expression, either in the global scene or in the particular specific communities one is a member of. I consider this important both for the spirit of understanding and open-mindedness, and believe that it is both healthy and intellectually useful to be exposed to a wide swath of thoughts and perspectives.

I will respond with such a request with either an acceptance of discussion or a response that I do not actually believe your opinion is a minority or unpopular opinion within your stated context. If the community of context that you mention is one I’m unfamiliar with, I may default to the latter. I also may listen to opinions that aren’t minority and unpopular opinions; I’m only saying I *might* decline.

I can only guarantee non-counteraction as far as you present your opinion as simply just an opinion. If you suggest that you wish to take action based on this opinion, than I can no longer guarantee non-counteraction.

This is an opportunity for the honest and well-intended exchange of thoughts, and people, like me, do not have enough time to take conversation to full rigorosity of analysis. If you manage to give me the impression that you are a troll and are using this as an opportunity to troll, thus wasting my time, I may become wholly uninterested in discussion with you. Although I cannot well-define what makes me categorize you as a troll, actions that suggest the stuff may include repeatedly bringing up already-discussed material, resorting to arguments on aspects clearly irrelevant to the conversation at hand, or being oppositional when from other contexts you are clearly not actually of such an opinion. It is okay to play Devil’s Advocate, and I’d in fact encourage doing so, but make it clear that you are.