lardbucket: 2009 : november


MIPS and spimbot

Filed under: General — Andy @ 2:38 pm

So, the CS232 spimbot competition was today. My partner (Connor Simmons) and I made a robot (actually just a piece of code) that came in second out of 37 (or 38?). It was a rather interesting competition. The page on it that I’ve set up (complete with MIT-licensed source code) is right here.

I remain impressed by the only team to beat us (and their come-from-behind win), whose inventive approach used an attack on the time-based seed of the random number generator to find where the tokens could be placed within the 50 minutes the competition was run. The one-second resolution used as a seed for the random number generator gave a small enough number of possible locations for tokens that they were able to accurately predict where all the tokens would be given just one token’s location. This strategy meant they lost a number of matches (I assume to slow calculations, but I may be wrong), including to our robot, but in the end, they were able to win more often (or by more tokens), so congratulations to them.

Andy Schmitz


The Illinois Basic Skills Test

Filed under: General — Andy @ 3:28 pm

The Illinois Certification Testing System‘s Basic Skills Test is required for admission to any secondary education (high school, middle school) teaching program in Illinois. (Notably, I’m taking it today.) It has 126 questions:

  • 48 Reading Comprehension Questions
  • 42 Language Arts Questions
  • 35 Mathematics Questions
  • 1 Writing Assignment

So, nearly everyone taking the test has also taken the ACT (required in Illinois for high school graduation in most cases). On the ACT, these sets should take:

  • 48 Reading Questions – 42 minutes (48 questions * (35 minutes / 40 questions)) [reference]
  • 42 Language Arts [English] Questions – 25.2 minutes (42 questions * (45 minutes / 75 questions)) [reference]
  • 35 Mathematics Questions – 35 minutes (35 questions * (60 minutes / 60 questions)) [reference]
  • 1 Writing Assignment – 30 minutes [reference]

And yes, they’re about the same difficulty (see: PDF list of tested skills for ICTS Basic Skills Test and the ACT). Having looked through the materials for both, I’d put the ICTS Basic Skills Test somewhere around the middle of the ACT’s level of questions, if a bit toward the higher end in some cases. (I looked mainly at the math questions, but the same seemed to hold for the reading and English questions as well).

So, that’s about 132.2 minutes. So, just over two hours. Say 2.5. Except the ICTS Basic Skills Test gives twice that. 5 hours. To answer 125 questions and write a short (five-paragraph is fine) essay. That just seems wrong. And the Basic Skills Test also allows the person taking it to skip around in the sections as much as they like (so there’s no lost time in waiting for a section to end, which is effectively expected in the ACT).

(Notably, the ACT’s “Services for Students with Disabilities” gives time-and-a-half testing as their standard extended time solution. The Basic Skills Test default is more than time-and-a-half, and also allows time extensions for test takers with disabilities.)

Somehow, it seems as though the Basic Skills Test doesn’t really do anything. It’s effectively “easier” than the ACT for most (all?) students who got into a college, so adding it as a requirement makes little sense. A “passing” Basic Skills Test is 240 out of a scaled 100-300 score, with lower minimum requirements on each section.  It’s unlikely to be scaled in the same way the ACT test is (which actually is scaled from 1-36 as far as I can tell, although few students score below an 11), but if it were, that would be equivalent to roughly a 24 on the ACT, assuming a quick Google calculation was correct. However, I would also say it’s easier to do well on the basic skills test, with the extra time and fewer types of questions, not to mention at least an extra year of knowledge.

Does anyone else see any value in this? I assume (but haven’t verified) that there are additional qualifications once one wants to actually get certified to teach (rather than simply to learn how to), so is there any reason for this requirement? I’m also not particularly happy that the website for such a supposedly impartial (and necessary) test is listed as “Copyright © 2009 Pearson Education, Inc. or its affiliate(s).”

Andy Schmitz


Notes: Time, USPS

Filed under: General, Hacks — Andy @ 4:30 pm


For some reason my computer’s clock got set a good 12 minutes ahead. I’m not exactly sure why, but it appears to have happened around a restart, perhaps due to a hardware clock that’s off, and the NTP daemon didn’t correct it. To manually reset the time based on a time server in Ubuntu, run

sudo /etc/init.d/ntp stop
sudo ntpdate
sudo /etc/init.d/ntp start

If you don’t stop the NTP daemon first, you’ll get “ntpdate[pid]: the NTP socket is in use, exiting”. Notably, don’t do this in a cron job, as ntpd should be enough. (It’s not clear why ntpd didn’t resolve the issue in the first place, but I’m blaming that on some configuration bug.)

BOINC and Time

BOINC seems to have had a bit of a problem with the time shift. (It was normally set at 80% usage, and jumped to 100% with absurd remaining times.) That turns out to be pretty easy to fix:

sudo /etc/init.d/boinc-client restart

And it should be good to go. It may still have some strange estimates for time (it would likely be safer to stop boinc-client before updating the time and then start it afterward, if I realized that would be an issue), but that’ll be fixed after the current workunits complete.

USPS Tracking

If you have a label number for a USPS package you want to track, you can bookmark this URL (obviously, put your number at the end) or keep it open in a tab. It’s not the result of a form submission, so refreshing won’t prompt for a resubmit, and loading the page again won’t ask for the tracking number.[Your tracking number]
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